The John M. Olin Center

Paper Abstract

384. Barak D. Richman, Community Enforcement of Informal contracts: Jewish Diamond Merchants in New York, 09/2002; subsequently published in Law and Social Inquiry, Vol. 31, Issue 2, Spring 2006, 383-420.

Abstract: The diamond industry is home to many unusual features: the predominance of an ethnically homogeneous community of merchants, the norm of intergenerational family businesses, and a rejection of public courts in favor of private contract enforcement. This paper explains that the diamond industry's unique attributes arise specifically to meet the particularly rigorous hazards of transacting in diamonds. Since diamonds are portable, easily concealable, and extremely valuable, the risk associated with a credit sale can be especially costly. However, the industry enjoys valuable organizational efficiencies if transactions occur on credit between independent, fully incentivized agents. Thus, an efficient system of exchange will find ways to induce merchants who purchase on credit to fulfill their payment obligations.

The very features that give the diamond industry an unusual profile are responsible for providing institutions to support credit sales. A system of private arbitration spreads information regarding merchants' past dealings, so a reputation mechanism to monitor merchants can take hold. Intergenerational legacies, though restricting entry only to those who can inherit good reputations from family members, resolve an end-game problem and induce merchants to deal honestly through their very last transaction. And the participation of Ultra-Orthodox Jews, for whom inclusion and participation in their communities is equally paramount to their material wealth, serve important value-added services as diamond cutters and brokers without posing the threat of theft and flight.

384: PDF