By Timothy M. Frye
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Additional resources for Brokers and Bureaucrats: Building Market Institutions in Russia
SGOs occupy a space between the state and the market. Like all economic agents, SGO members compete for market share based on price. They also however agree on a set of rules that are binding upon all members. Members grant SGOs the power to resolve disputes and levy sanctions, functions that are typically fulfilled by the state. In many instances SGO rules may have little basis in the formal law and may not be explicitly recognized by the state (Ellickson 1991). SGOs have a parallel in the literature on institutions in international relations.
The monitor is discouraged from abusing this power because later other group members will monitor her and she will not want to be exploited. This fear of being exploited later reduces exploitation by the monitor. The Law Merchant System of the Champagne Fairs of medieval Europe mitigated problems of social order in a far different setting (Berman 1972; Milgrom, North, and Weingast 1990). The Law Merchant System allowed traders to act periodically as judges for the community of itinerant merchants who traveled to the Champagne Fairs.
If the potential partner had outstanding claims against him, then no deal was made. If the potential partner had no outstanding claims, then the traders exchanged goods. If one side failed to fulfill the contract, then the other side referred the case to the Law Merchant judge who rendered a decision and levied fines against traders who had violated contracts. The guilty party then decided whether or not to pay the fine, and the judge recorded the decision. As long as the costs of making queries to the Law Merchant judge, providing evidence about potential partners, verifying evidence, and making transfer payments were not too high relative to the frequency and profitability of trade, then the system functioned effectively.