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Contract Enforcement and Institutions among the Maghribi Traders: Refuting Edwards and Ogilvie


  • Avner Greif


Edwards and Ogilvie (2008) dispute the empirical basis for the view (Greif, e.g., 1989, 1994, 2006) that multilateral reputation mechanism mitigated agency problems among the eleventh-century Maghribi traders. They assert that the relations among merchants and agents were law-based. This paper refutes this assertion using quantitative and documentary evidence thereby vindicating the position that the legal system had a marginal role in mitigating agency problems in long-distance trade in this historical era.** Edwards and Ogilvie constantly present legal actions in non-trade related legal cases as evidence for a reliance on the legal system for matters pertaining to long-distance trade. Their criticism of Greif’s documentary analysis also fails scrutiny. The claim that merchants' relations with their overseas agents were law-based is wrong. This paper is based on quantitative analyses of the corpuses containing the hundreds of documents on which the literature relies and a careful review of the documents and the literature Edwards and Ogilvie cite. Their assertion is shown to be based on unrepresentative and irrelevant examples, an inaccurate description of the literature, and a consistent misreading of the few sources they consulted. In particular, their examples for the use of the court are mainly taken from mandatory legal procedures associated with sorting out the assets and liabilities of deceased traders’ estates. Such examples do not support the claim that agency relations were law-based. The quantitative analysis reveals that empirical basis for the multilateral reputation view is stronger than originally perceived. This paper also sheds light on the roles of the legal system and reputation mechanism during this period.

Suggested Citation

  • Avner Greif, 2008. "Contract Enforcement and Institutions among the Maghribi Traders: Refuting Edwards and Ogilvie," CESifo Working Paper Series 2350, CESifo Group Munich.
  • Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_2350

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Reyerson, Kathryn, 2006. "Institutions and the Path to the Modern Economy: Lessons from Medieval Trade. By Avner Greif. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Pp. xix, 503. $34.99, paper," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 66(04), pages 1080-1081, December.
    2. 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 525-548, June.
    3. Jeremy Edwards & Sheilagh Ogilvie, 2012. "Contract enforcement, institutions, and social capital: the Maghribi traders reappraised," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 65(2), pages 421-444, May.
    4. 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.
    5. Greif, Avner, 1996. "The Study of Organizations and Evolving Organizational Forms through History: Reflections from the Late Medieval Family Firm," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 5(2), pages 473-501.
    6. Clay, Karen, 1997. "Trade without Law: Private-Order Institutions in Mexican California," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 13(1), pages 202-231, April.
    7. 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 912-950, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Veronica Coca, 2010. "The Impact of Rules on Economic Activity," Studies and Scientific Researches. Economics Edition, "Vasile Alecsandri" University of Bacau, Faculty of Economic Sciences, issue 15.

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    JEL classification:

    • O17 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Formal and Informal Sectors; Shadow Economy; Institutional Arrangements


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