By Jessica Goldberg
Paper given at the conference Before and Beyond Europe: Economic Change in Historical Perspective, Yale University (February, 2011)
Introduction: In this paper, I discuss how labor relationships and reputation worked among the eleventh-businessmen who left us some of their papers in the Cairo Geniza. Since these businessmen are also known in the social science literature as the ‘Maghribi traders,’ many of you will know that I am thus exploring the same territory pioneered as a subject in institutional economics by Avner Greif. This work has been widely influential in the social sciences; it has also, more recently, been seriously challenged by historians. In this paper, I re-examine the question of a ‘reputation mechanism’ working among these business that Greif proposed to suggest that while much of the criticism of Greif has been valid, the questions and problems he proposed are still important lenses through which to view the workings of business and comparative economic development. I will show that a reputation mechanism which uses the power of the business community acting as a group, did have a role to play in enforcement, though its role was rather different than that proposed by Greif.