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The role of the merchant coalition in pre-modern Japanese economic development: an historical institutional analysis

  • Okazaki, Tetsuji

This paper analyzes the role of the merchant coalition (kabu nakama) in Japan in the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth century, from the standpoint of Historical Institutional Analysis (Greif[1997]). The quantitative economic history literature has made clear that sustainable economic growth based on a market economy started in Japan at the end of the eighteenth century. On the other hand, from time to time the central government (Bakufu) legislated ordinances prescribing that suits on pecuniary matters would not be accepted (Aitai Sumeshi Rei). The implication is that the public system for third-party contract enforcement was not working well. The activities of merchant coalitions substituted for public third-party enforcement in premodern Japan. Many of the merchant coalitions' codes prescribed that all of each coalition's members should suspend transaction with those who cheated any one of the members of the coalition. This was the multiple punishment strategy (MPS), as formulated by Greif[1993]. The MPS of the merchant coalition reduced incentives for the players in the market to cheat, which in turn promoted development of a market economy. It is remarkable that the Japanese merchant coalition applied the MPS not only to ordinary commodity trade, but also to the putting-out system and employment. We empirically tested the above hypothesis about the function of the coalition. In 1841, the Bakufu prohibited the coalition, intending to eliminate any monopoly. This event can be regarded as a natural experiment, suitable for an investigation into the role of the coalition. The above hypothesis implies that prohibition of the coalition lowered the performance of the market economy. This implication was examined using data on the money supply and commodity prices. As predicted by the hypothesis, we found that the growth rate of the real money supply contracted and that the efficiency of price arbitrage declined.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Explorations in Economic History.

Volume (Year): 42 (2005)
Issue (Month): 2 (April)
Pages: 184-201

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Handle: RePEc:eee:exehis:v:42:y:2005:i:2:p:184-201
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/inca/622830

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  1. Ohkura, Takehiko & Shimbo, Hiroshi, 1978. "The Tokugawa monetary policy in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 15(1), pages 101-124, January.
  2. Greif, Avner, 1994. "Cultural Beliefs and the Organization of Society: A Historical and Theoretical Reflection on Collectivist and Individualist Societies," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(5), pages 912-50, October.
  3. Greif, Avner, 1989. "Reputation and Coalitions in Medieval Trade: Evidence on the Maghribi Traders," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 49(04), pages 857-882, December.
  4. Duffy, William J. & Yamamura, Kozo, 1971. "Monetization and integration of markets in Tokugawa Japan: A spectral analysis," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 8(4), pages 395-423.
  5. "Wakita, Shigeru", 1996. "Rational Expectations in the Rice Futures Market of Osaka, in the 18th Century," Economic Review, Hitotsubashi University, vol. 47(3), pages 238-247, July.
  6. Yamamura, Kozo, 1973. "Toward a Reexamination of the Economic History of Tokugawa Japan, 1600–1867," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 33(03), pages 509-546, September.
  7. Greif, Avner, 1993. "Contract Enforceability and Economic Institutions in Early Trade: the Maghribi Traders' Coalition," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(3), pages 525-48, June.
  8. Masahiko Aoki, 2001. "Toward a Comparative Institutional Analysis," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262011875, June.
  9. Hanley, Susan B., 1983. "A High Standard of Living in Nineteenth-Century Japan: Fact or Fantasy?," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 43(01), pages 183-192, March.
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