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Jesus and the Ratchet


  • Mario Ferrero

    () (Institute of Public Policy and Public Choice (POLIS), University of Eastern Piedmont)


Abstract This paper offers a rational economic reading of the career of the historical Jesus of Nazareth. A simple two-period model shows that Jesus may have been trapped by the incentive to maintain and increase his following, which led him to raise his challenge to ever higher levels and confront an increasingly hostile opposition; in a kind of ratchet mechanism, at each stage stepping back to the previous one was foreclosed and exit was made more and more difficult, leading ultimately to his ominous death. A detailed review of the Gospel evidence, informed by recent historical research, provides good support to the predictions of the model. The approach outlined here is potentially applicable to other prophets and leaders of radical religious or political movements.

Suggested Citation

  • Mario Ferrero, 2016. "Jesus and the Ratchet," Homo Oeconomicus: Journal of Behavioral and Institutional Economics, Springer, vol. 33(1), pages 173-195, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:homoec:v:33:y:2016:i:1:d:10.1007_s41412-016-0005-4
    DOI: 10.1007/s41412-016-0005-4

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Mario Ferrero, 2013. "The Cult of Martyrs," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 57(5), pages 881-904, October.
    2. R. Preston Mcafee & Hugo M. Mialon & Sue H. Mialon, 2010. "Do Sunk Costs Matter?," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 48(2), pages 323-336, April.
    3. Mario Ferrero, 2014. "From Jesus to Christianity: The economics of sacrifice," Rationality and Society, , vol. 26(4), pages 397-424, November.
    4. Xavier Freixas & Roger Guesnerie & Jean Tirole, 1985. "Planning under Incomplete Information and the Ratchet Effect," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 52(2), pages 173-191.
    5. Lazear, Edward P, 1986. "Salaries and Piece Rates," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 59(3), pages 405-431, July.
    6. Mario Ferrero, 2014. "Competition between Judaism and Christianity: Paul's Galatians as Entry Deterrence," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 67(2), pages 204-226, May.
    7. Fuhai HONG & Xiaojian ZHAO, 2014. "Sunk Cost as a Self-Disciplining Device," Economic Growth Centre Working Paper Series 1503, Nanyang Technological University, School of Social Sciences, Economic Growth Centre.
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    More about this item


    Economics of religion; Jesus; Christianity; Prophecy; Ratchet mechanism;

    JEL classification:

    • Z12 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Religion
    • D74 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Conflict; Conflict Resolution; Alliances; Revolutions


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