Veronica Santarosa (with Benjamin Chabot): Contracts without Courts: The Value of Contractual Protection in an Era of Absolute Sovereign Immunity

This paper looks at the contractual provisions in pre-1929 sovereign bonds in order to explore how sovereigns deployed hypothecation clauses to signal their willingness to commit to repayment. Although these contract terms were not enforceable in court, private institutions such as the London Stock Exchange refused new listings from sovereigns in default on previous contracts. Economic theory suggests that a borrower can be made better off “bargaining” for severe punishment as a way to credibly signal to creditors the intent to fulfill the contract. Our data set allows us to test whether contractual clauses in sovereign debt agreements are examples of such a bargain, and to measure the value of contractual commitments.