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Legal institutions, social norms, and entrepreneurship in Britain (c.1890–c.1939)

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Abstract

This article analyses the functioning of debt-discharge procedures in England and Wales in the light of the debate on entrepreneurial failure in the years between the late Victorian age and the interwar period. Using an original dataset and an empirical approach, it is argued that social norms, cultural elements, and class considerations influenced the outcome of decisions in a way that could have reduced the incentives for economic agents to engage with productive activity. Results show that over the entire period judges paid disproportionate attention to moral issues, and often gave lighter sentences to members of the elite who went into bankruptcy for personal reasons, and tougher ones to entrepreneurs who failed because of engagement with economic activity.

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