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Social Capital and Collusion : The Case of Merchant Guilds

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  • Dessi, Roberta
  • Ogilvie, Sheilagh

Abstract

Merchant guilds have been portrayed as ‘social networks’ that generated beneficial ‘social capital’ by sustaining shared norms, effectively transmitting information, and successfully undertaking collective action. This social capital, it is claimed, benefited society as a whole by enabling rulers to commit to providing a secure trading environment for alien merchants. But was this really the case? We develop a new model of the emergence, rise and eventual decline of European merchant guilds which explores the collusive relationship between rulers and guilds, and calls into question the prevailing positive view of merchant guilds. We then confront the model’s predictions with the available historical data. The empirical evidence strongly support our model and refutes existing theories. Our findings show that merchant guilds used their social capital for socially harmful as well as beneficial ends.

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Paper provided by Institut d'Économie Industrielle (IDEI), Toulouse in its series IDEI Working Papers with number 214.

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Date of creation: 2003
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Handle: RePEc:ide:wpaper:564

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  1. Edward L. Glaeser & David Laibson & Bruce Sacerdote, 2002. "An Economic Approach to Social Capital," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(483), pages 437-458, November.
  2. Joel Sobel, 2002. "Can We Trust Social Capital?," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(1), pages 139-154, March.
  3. Oliver Volckart & Antje Mangels, 1999. "Are the Roots of the Modern Lex Mercatoria Really Medieval?," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 65(3), pages 427-450, January.
  4. Lopez, Robert Sabatino, 1943. "European Merchants in the Medieval Indies: The Evidence of Commercial Documents," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 3(02), pages 164-184, November.
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Cited by:
  1. Sheilagh Ogilvie, 2007. "'Whatever Is, Is Right'?, Economic Institutions in Pre-Industrial Europe (Tawney Lecture 2006)," CESifo Working Paper Series 2066, CESifo Group Munich.
  2. Dessi, Roberta & Piccolo, Salvatore, 2009. "Two is Company, N is a Crowd? Merchant Guilds and Social Capital," TSE Working Papers 09-059, Toulouse School of Economics (TSE), revised Jun 2013.
  3. Ogilvie, Sheilagh & Carus, A.W., 2014. "Institutions and Economic Growth in Historical Perspective," Handbook of Economic Growth, in: Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 8, pages 403-513 Elsevier.

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