Salvation as a Selective Incentive

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As club goods, religions face the problem of free riding. Smaller religious clubs, such as cults or sects, can often surmount this problem through communal pressures or by requiring their members to provide easily monitored signals. Generally, however, such tactics will be unavailable or too costly for large denominations, and, as such, these denominations must look for other techniques to avoid free riding. This paper argues that the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification by faith and works serves as an Olsonian selective incentive, and presents empirical evidence in support of this claim. Specifically, I show that Catholics contribute significantly more to their churches as they approach death than do members of Protestant denominations. More generally, this paper suggests that church doctrines influence behavioral incentives and religious leaders may be able to capitalize on these behavioral effects for the benefit of their church.


economics, religion, law, free-riding, institutions, public choice

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International Review of Law & Economics

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