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Formal law and customary change: A lab-in-field experiment in Ethiopia

Listed author(s):
  • Cecchi, Francesco
  • Melesse, Mequanint Biset

Do customary courts strategically adapt arbitration outcomes if they face increased competition by the formal law? Through a lab-in-field experiment with villagers and real customary judges in rural Ethiopia, we show that post-arbitration payouts to agents disfavored by the customary system are downwardly biased. Introducing a costly formal law reduces these biases and draws the decisions of customary judges significantly closer to the law. At the same time agents advantaged by the law do not exploit their increased bargaining power. Instead, they make offers that are less advantageous to themselves and, in equilibrium, only a fraction of them make direct use of the formal law. Our results suggest that local customary dispute resolution institutions may have a role to play in shifting preexisting customs toward a desired outcome. In areas where formal legal institutions have limited outreach, the effects of increased competition between formal law and customary legal institutions may rise from changes in the latter, rather than from plaintiffs seeking justice under the rule of law.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.

Volume (Year): 125 (2016)
Issue (Month): C ()
Pages: 67-85

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Handle: RePEc:eee:jeborg:v:125:y:2016:i:c:p:67-85
DOI: 10.1016/j.jebo.2016.01.006
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/jebo

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