Specialization and Rent Seeking in Moral Enforcement: The Case of Confession


Correspondence should be addressed to Benito Arruñada, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Trias Fargas, 25. 08005-Barcelona, Spain. E-mail: benito.arrunada@upf.edu


Moral codes are produced and enforced by more or less specialized means and are subject to standard economic forces. This article argues that the intermediary role played by the Catholic Church between God and Christians, a key difference from Protestantism, faces the standard tradeoff of specialization benefits and agency costs. It applies this trade-off hypothesis to confession of sins to priests, an institution that epitomizes such intermediation, showing that this hypothesis fits cognitive, historical, and econometric evidence better than a simpler rent-seeking story. In particular, Catholics who confess more often are observed to comply more with the moral code; however, no relationship is observed between mass attendance and moral compliance.