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Two is Company, N is a Crowd? Merchant Guilds and Social Capital

  • Dessi, Roberta
  • Piccolo, Salvatore

We develop a theory of the emergence of merchant guilds as an efficient mechanism to foster cooperation between merchants and rulers, building on the natural complementarity between merchants’ market trading and mutual monitoring. Unlike existing models, we focus on local merchant guilds, rather than alien guilds, accounting for the main observed features of their behavior, internal organization and relationship with rulers. Our model delivers novel predictions about guilds’ size, membership restrictions, and their welfare implications. Moreover, it identifies the main channels through which the guilds’ social capital influenced their ability to cooperate effectively with rulers. As we argue, the available historical evidence offers support for our theory. We also extend the model to analyze the key trade-offs faced by rulers in choosing whether to grant recognition to one or multiple guilds. This provides a rationale for the establishment of both local and alien merchant guilds, helping us to understand the observed distribution of guilds and their characteristics.

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Paper provided by Toulouse School of Economics (TSE) in its series TSE Working Papers with number 09-059.

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Date of creation: Jul 2009
Date of revision: Jun 2013
Handle: RePEc:tse:wpaper:21928
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  5. La Ferrara, Eliana & Alesina, Alberto, 2000. "Participation in Heterogeneous Communities," Scholarly Articles 4551796, Harvard University Department of Economics.
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  16. Knack, Stephen & Keefer, Philip, 1997. "Does Social Capital Have an Economic Payoff? A Cross-Country Investigation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(4), pages 1251-88, November.
  17. 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.
  18. Richardson, Gary, 2001. "A Tale of Two Theories: Monopolies and Craft Guilds in Medieval England and Modern Imagination," Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Cambridge University Press, vol. 23(02), pages 217-242, June.
  19. 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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  21. Greif, Avner & Milgrom, Paul & Weingast, Barry R, 1994. "Coordination, Commitment, and Enforcement: The Case of the Merchant Guild," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(4), pages 745-76, August.
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