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The Hanseatic League and the Concept of Functional Overlapping Competing Jurisdictions


  • Alexander Fink

    1. Institut für Wirtschaftspolitik, University of Leipzig, Leipzig, Germany
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    • The author acknowledges the financial assistance of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He would also like to thank Peter Boettke, Peter Leeson, Adam Martin, Daniel Smith, Virgil Storr, Richard Wagner, as well as the participants of a session at the 2011 Association for Private Enterprise Education Annual Meeting, especially Deirdre McCloskey and Bruce Benson, and the editor of this journal for comments on earlier drafts of the paper.


I explore the medieval phenomenon of the Hanseatic League. I use the concept of functional overlapping competing jurisdictions (FOCJ) discussed by Frey and Eichenberger (1996, 1999, 2000) as framework for my analysis of the medieval association of northern European traders and cities. I show that the Hanseatic League came close to representing an example of a FOCJ. But I find that in contrast to the FOCJ outlined by Frey and Eichenberger the polycentric Hanseatic League as an inter-regional structure lacked the characteristic of a jurisdiction. It was not a political authority with the power to tax and regulate its members. The arrangements between the members of the Hanseatic League therefore had to be self-enforcing. Building on my investigation of the Hanseatic League, I further provide a general discussion of the costs and benefits of a central political authority in a system of functional overlapping competing units.