a16z Podcast: The Why Behind the Weird

Author and professor at George Mason University, Peter Leeson describes himself as not just an economist but as a “collector of curiosa.” In his latest book, WTF?! An Economic Tour of the Weird, Leeson looks at just that — the strangest beliefs, superstitions and rituals humankind has engaged in — and using economics, uncovers the incentives and rational behavior that makes them, well, make a whole lot more sense.

In this Halloween Special, Leeson and a16z’s Hanne Tidnam dive into the weirdest historical mysteries — everything from ecclesiastic courts that put rats and rodents on trial, to judicial ordeals that determined guilt or innocence by boiling the accused’s hands in cauldrons of hot water, to the economics and laws that governed pirate ships. All these practices, Leeson argues, use superstitions and beliefs like tools: a kind of technology — in the broadest possible terms.