Greif Responds to Edwards and Ogilvie

1 July 2008 at 11:27 am 2 comments

| Peter Klein |

I blogged earlier on Jeremy Edwards and Sheilagh Ogilvie’s provocative claim that Avner Greif misread the Geniza documents in constructing his influential account of the emergence of long-distance trade. Edwards and Ogilvie claim that formal law, not norms and custom, governed the behavior of the Maghribi traders.

Greif has prepared a formal response, now available on SSRN. Here’s the abstract:

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. Specifically, they assert that the relations among merchants and agents were law-based. This paper refutes this assertion and vindicates the position that the legal system had a marginal role in mitigating agency problems in long-distance trade in this historical era. The claim that merchants’ relations with their overseas agents were law-based is wrong.

The evidence presented here 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. This paper thereby reaffirms the empirical basis for the multilateral reputation view. Indeed, this empirical basis is stronger than originally perceived. In addition, this paper sheds light on the roles of the legal system and reputation mechanism during this period.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Institutions, New Institutional Economics.

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