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Institutional Foundations of Impersonal Exchange: Theory and Policy of Contractual Registries Hardcover – August 24, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"This is law and economics at its best. Benito Arruñada’s brilliant book greatly advances our understanding of how law and legal institutions affect the possibilities for trade. Very unusually, it also demonstrates how the needs of transacting parties and the interests of those who serve them profoundly shape a wide range of institutions from contract enforcement to title registries."
(Henry E. Smith, Harvard Law School)

"With Institutional Foundations of Impersonal Exchange, Benito Arruñada fills an important gap in the literature on institutions and economic growth. He recognizes the importance of impersonal exchange for growth, but also understands there are trade-offs in developing the institutional framework for such exchange. This book is a 'must read' for anyone who wants to understand the full range of rules governing property rights protection, enforcement, and exchange."

(P.J. Hill, Wheaton College)

"Benito Arruñada has produced a masterly analysis informed by sound economic and legal theory. It deals with a very real-world problem: the issue of how best to provide security to participants in transactions in impersonal contexts. His focus on impersonality clarifies the fundamentals of a long-running debate in the world of development over the priority to be given to formalization of land rights. Registration, his analysis suggests, is properly seen as a response to the needs of impersonal markets in land, not a magic wand for creating them."
 

(John W. Bruce, Land and Development Solutions International, Inc.)

About the Author

Benito Arruñada is professor of business organization at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; First Edition edition (August 24, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226028321
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226028323
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,171,371 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
Since the Washington Consensus and the deregulation movement took place thirty years ago, administrative simplification and reduction of bureaucracy has been on the agenda of policymakers. In fact, economists tended to agree that a strongly market-based approach requires an effective public administration imposing light burdens on economic players (thus creating a business-friendly economic environment). This view was later popularized by De Soto's The Other Path in 1989 which inspired the work of many international organizations and the (by now) famous Doing Business Project in the late 1990s. Simplification, cutting red tape, one-stop bureaucratic agencies, reduction of licenses and procedures, de-formalizing business activities have become popular slogans with many governments around the world.

The important work of Benito Arruñada takes a fresh look at these issues. We all know that the Washington Consensus promotes deregulation, but it also defends strong legal security for property rights (understood in a nontechnical way, that is, both rights in rem and rights in personam) in the tradition of Coase, Williamson and North. In his book, Arruñada convincingly shows that certain simplifications of procedures and some forms of de-formalization actually hurt important safeguards. In other words, there could be an intrinsic and convoluted trade-off between the popularized programs of administrative simplification and adequate legal certainty. Eliminating certain formalisms might save some apparent costs in the immediate, but augment considerably transaction costs in time, therefore damaging the proper functioning of markets.
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Format: Hardcover
On the blog "Organizations and Markets" you'll find an online seminar dedicated to various aspects of Arrunada's great book. To find the seminar, go to organizationsandmarkets.com and use the search term "Arrunada seminar". Please feel free to join the discussion.
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Format: Hardcover
Benito Arruñada's "Institutional Foundations of Impersonal Exchange" develops a unified theory of property and business registries, provides the reader with deep historical and institutional analyses that make the theory compelling, and discusses paths for the reform of business formalization policies that challenge the conventional wisdom.

Even more importantly, the book shifts the unit of analysis in the theory of the firm from personal to impersonal exchanges. From Coase (1937, 1960) and Williamson (1979) to Grossman and Hart (1986), Holmstrom and Milgrom (1994), and others, the economic theories of the firm have treated contracts as personal exchanges, with little analytic distinction between phyisical and legal persons. This has led to Alchian and Demsetz's (1972) famous definition of the firm as a "nexus of contracts".

By focusing on how hidden "originative" contracts make the consequences of present contracts uncertain, and on how registering contracts ex ante can reduce the uncertainty of good-faith acquirers of rights, Arruñada's book moves an important step towards an economic theory of the firm as a legal person. In that perspective, the nexus of contracts we call "firm" differs from a similar nexus of market contracts because, being the firm registered, external parties can contract with it without fearing that previous "internal" contracts will dilute their rights. In this sense, one could say that ex ante registration marks the boundary between firms and markets.
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Format: Hardcover
From a lawyer's perspective, one of the most important contributions of Arruñada's Institutional Foundations of Impersonal Exchange is the creation of a general economic theory on public registers. Even if this work is principally focused on business registers and on registers concerning immovable property, many of the results professor Arruñada achieves could be easily extended to other registers already existing in many legal systems or at the transnational level.

For example, a first extension of the theories proposed by professor Arruñada could be made by examining the functioning of the registers that collect information on the status and capacity of persons. A second field that should probably benefit from professor Arruñada's achievements is that of public registers that operate at a transnational level and established by international treaties. In particular, in this second case, the reference is obviously to the Cape Town convention on International Interests in Mobile Equipment which will, and -- to some extent -- already has, resulted in the creation of different registers for the registrations of security interests for Aircrafts, Railway Rolling Stock, and Space Assets. It will be important to test in what measure the solutions adopted for these registers are consistent with the results of Arruñada's analysis.
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Format: Hardcover
Benito Arruñada's Institutional Foundations of Impersonal Exchange: Theory and Policy of Contractual Registries is an impressive and erudite study of the relationship between legal institutions and impersonal exchange. While clearly valuable for better understanding policies regarding formalization, in my mind it also introduces ideas that are relevant for contract theory more generally and yet hardly treated in the literature.

Since the 1970′s economic theorists have understood that information asymmetries between parties who write contracts are a key source of inefficiencies in exchange. Since then, a vast literature has developed exploring this idea from many different angles. Nevertheless, two key features usually appear. First, the set of parties who write contracts all observe each other, know they are contracting with each other, and (with some exceptions) observe the terms of the contracts agreed. Second, the information asymmetries are assumed to be a fixed, exogenous feature of relationships.

Benito's book convincingly shows that both of these limit our understanding of trading frictions in the real world. A key insight is that, in addition to his "type" or "action" (to use the language of contract theory), the formal contracts that an economic agent has written with others may be unobservable. After reading the book, it became clear to me that this dimension of non-observability is just as important for generating market failure as others. The second, and intimately related, insight is that the degree of non-observability of contractual rights depends on public institutions, in particular registration systems.
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