The ideal of individual liberty and autonomy requires that society provide relief against coercion. In the law, this requirement is often translated into rules that operate “post-coercion” to undo the legal consequences of acts and promises extracted under duress. This Article argues that these ex-post anti-duress measures, rather than helping the coerced party, might in fact hurt her. When coercion is credible—when a credible threat to inflict an even worse outcome underlies the surrender of the coerced party—ex post relief will only induce the strong party to execute the threatened outcome, to the detriment of the coerced party. Anti-duress relief can be helpful to the coerced party only when the threat that led to her surrender was not credible, or when the making of threats can be deterred in the first place. The credibility methodology developed in this Article, descriptive in nature, is shown to be a prerequisite (or an important complement) to any normative theory of coercion. The Article explores the implications of credible coercion analysis for existing philosophical conceptions of coercion, and applies its lessons in different legal contexts, ranging from contractual duress and unconscionability to plea bargains and bankruptcy.
Bankruptcy Law | Contracts | Economics | Law and Economics
Date of this Version
Oren Bar-Gill and Omri Ben-Shahar, "Credible Coercion" (March 2004). University of Michigan Program in Law and Economics Archive: 2003-2009. Working Paper 5.