Thursday, March 14, 2013

Conover on the First Athenian Law against Bribery

Kellam Conover, a J.D. candidate at the Stanford Law School and the holder of a Ph.D. in Classics from Princeton, has posted The First Athenian Law Against Bribery.  Here is the abstract:
This paper develops a new approach for understanding the explosion of laws regulating politics in archaic Greece. Typically, scholars in this area have adopted a functionalist approach that explains, at best, why certain types of substantive law would have been desirable. By contrast, my approach focuses on procedural design to examine what drove specific design choices about a law's substance, penalty, and procedure.

I use Athens' first bribery law--a Solonian law prohibiting compensatory gifts (bribes) to archons--to illustrate how norms and existing institutions shape a law's design. I show how the substance, procedure, and penalty of Solon's law reflected a nascent idea of bribery as a kind of elite rent-seeking. Solon chose legal process — prosecution before the Areopagus — because it was best-suited to inculcate among elites more civic-oriented norms on rent-seeking. Though likely ineffective, his law helped establish that elites should channel rent-seeking into a public sphere regulated by law.