Proposal preview

The institutional foundations of long-distance trade before industrialization

Ever since the days of Adam Smith, it has been recognized that an enhanced ability to exchange promotes economic growth. Yet we know surprisingly little about how distinct institutional systems, each conformed by a plurality of elements, such as beliefs, values, rules and organizations, can theoretically and did historically govern the fundamental problem of exchange — one will not enter into an objectively profitable exchange relationship unless the other party can credibly commit ex-ante not to breach his contractual obligations ex-post. Furthermore, we are equally ignorant about how these distinct institutional systems, each with different efficiency and distributional implications, emerged and evolved reflecting broader social, political and cultural processes of which they were an integral part.

This session will explore the nature and the dynamics of the various institutions for contract enforcement that supported trade expansion before industrialization. Rooted on a comparative and historical analysis, it seeks to understand institutional diversity and change. It aims to examine empirically how and to what degree of effectiveness diverse institutional systems and elements (public and private, formal and informal, legal and extra-legal) mitigated opportunism and information asymmetry across regions and over time. It also aims to explore how past institutions shaped a society’s rate and direction of change, and hence historically explain the diversity in economic development we observe on a global scale.

Proposals for papers to be presented at this session are welcome until January 10! We have commitments for four papers and one discussant (below). This open call is limited to up to four papers. We encourage both economists and historians to apply and engage into a challenging yet inspiring dialogue. Although the call will consider papers covering all parts of the world, proposals relating to Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe will be particularly welcome. The proposal should be a draft outline or summary of the paper of up to 1500 words. Send it together with a copy of your CV to Include “Boston” in the headline of the email!


  • Daniel Strum, University of São Paulo,, Brazil

Session members

  • Yadira González-De Lara, University of Valencia,
  • Daniel Strum, University of São Paulo,
  • Esther Sahle, University of Bremen,
  • Regina Grafe, European University Institute ,

Proposed discussant(s)

  • Francesca Trivellato, Yale University,

This panel has Call for Papers open.
If you are interested in participating, please contact the panel organizer(s) to submit a proposal.

  • Daniel Strum, University of São Paulo,, Brazil