The Price Elasticity of Belief: Beavers are Fish edition

By Eric Crampton 27/05/2013 3


I am so using this when I lecture on the price elasticity of beliefs in my public choice class next semester.

Suppose that you’re trying to convert to your religion a bunch of people who eat a lot of beaver meat. And suppose that you want to ban them from eating meat on Fridays in Lent. And suppose that they don’t want to give up beaver during Lent. What do you do?

In addition to disease, the European settlers also brought Catholicism with them, and successfully converted a large proportion of the indigenous population. And the native Americans and Canadians loved their beaver meat.

So in the 17th century, the Bishop of Quebec approached his superiors in the Church and asked whether his flock would be permitted to eat beaver meat on Fridays during Lent, despite the fact that meat-eating was forbidden. Since the semi-aquatic rodent was a skilled swimmer, the Church declared that the beaver was a fish. Being a fish, beaver barbeques were permitted throughout Lent. Problem solved!

The Church, by the way, also classified another semi-aquatic rodent, the capybara, as a fish for dietary purposes. The critter, the largest rodent in the world, is commonly eaten during Lent in Venezuela. “It’s delicious,” one restaurant owner told the New York Sun in 2005. “I know it’s a rat, but it tastes really good.”

Chalk this one up on the supply-side in the market for irrational beliefs.


3 Responses to “The Price Elasticity of Belief: Beavers are Fish edition”

  • Religion: re-writing the rules to suit themselves yet again! So much for the infallible word of god.

    • Religion is best modeled as a two-sided market. On the supply side, the providers of a faith want more adherents and want more money. On the demand side, potential believers want comforting beliefs, some basic plausibility, and, most importantly I think, a mechanism for the provision of social solidarity goods. Equilibrium beliefs provided will change a bit in response to market conditions, but can’t move too much without wrecking the plausibility-constraint.

  • Heh: From the same article:
    “With them came disease along with an insatiable desire for beaver pelts and for beaver castoreum, a urine-like secretion often used in perfume and cologne.”

    You can make anything smell nice….