Historical Property Rights, Sociality, and the Emergence of Impersonal Exchange in Long-Distance Trade

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This laboratory experiment explores the extent to which impersonal exchange emerges from personal exchange with opportunities for long-distance trade. We design a three-commodity production and exchange economy in which agents in three geographically separated villages must develop multilateral exchange networks to import a good only available abroad. For treatments, we induce two distinct institutional histories to investigate how past experience with property rights affects the evolution of specialization and exchange. We find that a history of unenforced property rights hinders our subjects' ability to develop the requisite personal social arrangements to support specialization and effectively exploit impersonal long-distance trade.


This article was originally published in American Economic Review, volume 98, issue 3, in 2008. DOI: 10.1257/aer.98.3.1009

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American Economic Association