Law & Economics Workshop with Prof. Daniel Chen: British Application of the Death Penalty during World War I
During World War I, the British military condemned over 3,000 soldiers to death, but only executed 12% of them; the others received commuted sentences. Many historians believe that the military command confirmed or commuted sentences for reasons unrelated to the circumstances of a particular case and that the application of the death penalty was essentially a random 'pitiless lottery.'
Using a dataset on all capital cases during World War I, Chen statistically investigates this claim and finds that the data is consistent with an essentially random process. Using this result, Chen exploits variations in commutations and executions within military units to identify the deterrent effect of executions, with deterrence measured by the elapsed time within a unit between the resolution of a death sentence (i.e. a commutation or execution) and subsequent absences within that unit. Absences are measured via handwritten trial recordsand 'wanted' lists prepared by British military police units searching for deserters and preserved in war diaries and police gazettes. Chen finds some limited evidence that executing deserters deterred absences, while executing Irish soldiers, regardless of the crime, spurred absences, particularly Irish absences. Chen presents a model where perceived legitimacy of authority affects why people obey the law.
About the speaker:
Daniel Chen is a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse / Toulouse School of Economics, Senior Research Associate/Fellow at LWP at Harvard Law School, and Project Advisor at NYU Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences Center for Data Science. He was previously Chair of Law and Economics and co-founder of the Center of Law and Economics at ETH Zurich, Assistant Professor of Law, Economics, and Public Policy at Duke University, and Kauffman Fellow at the University of Chicago Law School.
He received an ERC Consolidator Grant for researchers 8–14 years from PhD for “Origins and Effects of Normative Commitments”. He has lines of research on law and legitimacy, how market forces interact with moral beliefs, behavioral influences on judicial decision-making, and measuring the consequences of law via the random assignment of judges. He has papers published in Econometrica, Journal of Political Economy, Quarterly Journal of Economics, American Economic Review, RAND Journal of Economics, and several law reviews. He maintains an interest in methodology through high-dimensional statistical approaches for causal inference and through the development of oTree---an open source platform for online, lab, and field experiments.
He received his BA and MS in applied math and economics from Harvard College (1999, summa cum laude) and his JD (2009) from Harvard Law School. He earned his PhD in economics from MIT (2004).