Commitment, Coercion and Markets: The Nature and Dynamics of Institutions Supporting Exchange

Click to view a PDF (Adobe Acrobat PDF) file.


Commitment, Coercion, and Markets: The Nature and Dynamics of Institutions Supporting Exchange

Markets rest upon institutions. The development of market-based exchange relies on the support of two institutional pillars that are, in turn, shaped by the development of markets. Research in the field of new institutional economics has largely focused upon one such institutional pillar—‘contract-enforcement institutions’—that determine the range of transactions in which individuals can commit to keep their contractual obligations. Yet, markets also require institutions that constrain those with coercive power from abusing others’ property rights. These ‘coercion-constraining’ institutions influence whether individuals will bring their goods to the market in the first place.

This chapter’s discussion of market-supporting institutions is geared toward the issues we know the least about. First, the dynamics of market-supporting institutions and the implied dynamics of markets; second, the inter-relationships between the dynamics of market-supporting and political institutions where the latter comprise the rules for collective decision-making, political rights, and the legitimate use of coercive power. It argues, in particular, that neither the assertion that liberal political institutions lead to markets nor that markets lead to liberal governance are supported by theory or history. Markets and political institutions co-evolve through a dynamic inter-play between contract-enforcement and coercion-constraining institutions.

Many successful market economies have prevailed in the past; there were adequate market-supporting institutions. Early successes, such as those in the Islamic world or China, were not indicators of later development. It was the commercial expansion that began in Europe during the late medieval period that led to the development of markets that support the complex, dynamic modern economy with its wide-scale reliance on impersonal exchange. Why didn’t early success lead to subsequent market expansion? More generally, what does determine the dynamics of market expansion? Addressing these questions is a key to understanding the ‘Rise of theWest,’ the operation of market economies, and the factors that still hinder market development.

The argument advanced here is that markets can rest on different combinations of contract-enforcement and coercion-constraining institutions.