Document Type



Law and Economics


Virtually nothing about what makes Serial so compelling has much to do with economics. But the central question of the series—the guilt or innocence of Adnan Syed—does connect with a powerful and important branch of economic theory dealing with asymmetries of information, instances where one party knows something the other doesn’t. For example, policyholders may know more about their riskiness than their insurers do; criminal defendants may know more about their guilt or innocence than the state does; and so on. Of course, people often have reasons to conceal or distort their private information, so the challenge posed by so-called “screening” models is to devise rules, incentives or institutions that induce self-interested actors to reveal what they know. Could Serial itself, by its very existence, serve as such a truth-inducing mechanism? Sarah Koenig seemed to toy with this idea when—at the very end of episode 12, as she was wrapping up the series— she wondered “. . . why on earth would a guilty man agree to let me do this story, unless he was cocky to the point of delusion.” Put slightly differently, can we learn anything about Adnan Syed’s guilt or innocence from the fact that (before the investigation began) Syed gave permission for his case to be investigated and his story to be told?