Economics

Take Buy My Wife. Please!

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From George Mason's Peter Leeson (of pirate and witch trial fame), Peter Boettke, and Jayme S. Lemke, an economist's defense of the practice of wife sales in 18th and 19th century England when divorce was tricky and wives were property. As the George Mason trio explain, "wife sales were an efficiency enhancing institutional response to the unusual constellation of property rights thatIndustrial Revolution-era English law created." 

From the paper:

Consider an 18th-century English married couple, Hattie and Horace. Horace likes Hattie. His valuation of Hattie-as-wife is £5. But Hattie detests Horace. She values Horace-as-husband -£7. Their marriage is inefficient. Hattie wants to exit the marriage. To do so she requires Horace's consent. Horace is willing to sell Hattie his consent for anything more than £5. And Hattie is willing to pay him that much. But, since she's married, she has no property rights with which to do so. All that Hattie might use to pay Horace is already his. A direct Coasean bargain is impossible.

But an indirect Coasean bargain isn't. Consider Harland, an English bachelor. Harland is Horace and Hattie's neighbor. He likes Hattie more than Horace does. His valuation ofHattie-as-wife is £6. Further, Hattie likes Harland more than Horace. She values Harland-as-husband £1. 

Horace knows this. He proposes the following to Hattie and Harland: if Harland willagree to pay him £5.5, he will sell Hattie to him. Unlike Hattie, Harland has property that isn't Horace's. So this exchange is possible. Hattie and Harland agree to Horace's deal. Horace benefits £0.5, Harland, £0.5, and Hattie, £8. The sale improves all parties' welfare.

Get the PDF here.