Berkeley Program in Law and Economics
The Law of Duress and the Economics of Credible Threats
- Author(s): Bar-Gill, Oren
- Ben-Shahar, Omri
- et al.
This paper argues that enforcement of an agreement, reached under a threat to refrain from dealing, should be conditioned solely on the credibility of the threat. When a credible threat exists, enforcement of the agreement promotes both social welfare and the interests of the threatened party. If agreements backed by credible threats were not enforceable, the threatening party would not bother to extract them, and would simply refrain from dealing - to the detriment of the threatened party. The doctrine of duress, which predominantly controls such agreements, only hurts the "coerced" party. By denying enforcement in cases where a credible threat exists, duress doctrine precludes the threatened party from making the commitment that is necessary to reach agreement and reduces incentives to invest. The analysis in this paper suggests that, in dealing with agreements reached under threats to breach, courts should replace the duress methodology with a credibility inquiry. It discusses factors that would be relevant under such inquiry. Finally, it demonstrates some of the applications of this approach in the context of leading contract modification cases.