The Economic History Review

The Maghribi traders: a reappraisal?1

Volume 65 Issue 2
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Pages: 445-469Authors: AVNER GREIF
Published online: April 20, 2012DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0289.2012.00645.x

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Previous studies concluded that a private-order institution based on a multilateral reputation mechanism was particularly important in governing agency relations among the Maghribi traders who operated in the Muslim Mediterranean. The legal system and a bilateral reputation mechanism were particularly important among the Genoese traders. Initial cultural, social, and political factors led to this institutional distinction, while the incorporation of culture in the resulting institutions influenced subsequent institutional developments. In particular, the particularities of the late medieval European institutions contributed to the rise of the modern–impersonal–markets in Europe. The analysis also substantiates the contention that private-order institutions can support sophisticated exchange and market-promoting policies should take this into account, particularly in countries lacking an effective court system. An article by Edwards and Ogilvie challenges this analysis. It alleges that the Maghribis, like European traders, relied on court enforcement and a bilateral reputation mechanism in which a narrow social circle responded to opportunism. This article shows that Edwards and Ogilvie’s analysis and conclusions are wrong. It refutes each of their empirical claims and presents additional pieces of evidence supporting the institutional distinction conjecture. The discussion is structured around the methodological challenge associated with comparative and historical institutional analysis.