Prosecution Associations in Industrial Revolution England: Private Providers of Public Goods?

Mark Koyama (University of York)

Abstract: In early 19th century England there was no professional police force and most prosecutions were private. This paper examines how associations for the prosecution of felons arose to internalise the positive externalities produced by private prosecutions. Drawing upon new historical evidence, it examines how the internal governance and incentive structures of prosecution associations enabled them to provide public goods. Consistent with Demsetz (1970), prosecution associations were economic clubs that bundled the private good of insurance with the public good of deterrence. Associations used local newspapers to advertise rewards and attract new members. Price discrimination was employed in order to elicit contributions from individuals with different security demands. Selective incentives helped overcome to free-rider problems between members.

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