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About the Talk

Professor Barak Richman’s Stateless Commerce (Harvard University Press, 2017) uses the colorful case study of the diamond industry to explore how ethnic trading networks operate and why they persist in the twenty-first century. It explains why the diamond district in midtown Manhattan―surrounded by skyscrapers and sophisticated financial institutions―thrives as an ethnic marketplace and why the world’s most modern commercial centers continue to house ethnic commercial enclaves that operate vibrant, traditional bazaars.  Conventional models of economic and technological progress suggest that such pre-modern commercial networks would be displaced by new trading paradigms, yet in the heart of the world’s most modern cities, the old world persists.

Far from being an anachronism, ethnic trading networks survive because they are better at fulfilling certain functions that are usually performed by state institutions. While the modern world rests heavily on lawyers, courts, and state coercion, ethnic merchants regularly sell goods and services by relying solely on familiarity, trust, and community enforcement―what economists call “relational exchange.” These commercial networks operate “stateless” commerce because they thrive without help from the modern state, and they insulate themselves from the outside world because the outside world cannot provide those assurances.

Even as many scholars recognize that “statelessness” is a phenomenon that coexists within the modern global economy, the limits of statelessness are poorly understood.  In this talk, Professor Richman will describe what is known about stateless commercial networks, how to understand them within the context of modernity, and what limits they reveal about the modern state.  He will then explore new questions about how stateless networks and their host polities adapt, co-evolve, and suffer decline.

About the Speaker:

Barak Richman is the Edgar P. and Elizabeth C. Bartlett Professor of Law and Professor of Business Administration at Duke University. His primary research interests include the economics of contracting, new institutional economics, antitrust, and healthcare policy. His work has been published in the Columbia Law Review, the University of Pennsylvania Law ReviewLaw and Social Inquiry, the New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and Health Affairs.  In 2006, he co-edited with Clark Havighurst a symposium volume of Law and Contemporary Problems entitled “Who Pays? Who Benefits? Distributional Issues in Health Care,” and his book Stateless Commerce was published by Harvard University Press in 2017.

Richman represented the NFL Coaches Association in an amicus curiae brief in American Needle v. The Nat’l Football League, which was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in January 2010 and again in Brady v. The Nat’l Football League in 2011.  His recent work challenging illegal practices by Rabbinical Associations was featured in the New York Times. His work is available at http://ssrn.com/author=334149.