jueves, 7 de julio de 2011

La prohibición de la usura como ejemplo de instituciones ineficientes que perduran si generan rentas para grupos poderosos socialmente

Koyama, Mark, Evading the Taint of Usury (August 28, 2010). Explorations in Economic History, Vol. 47, No. 4, 2010. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1829062
Certain merchants had an interest in supporting the prohibition on interest, even though it imposed additional costs on themselves, because the prohibition imposed still higher costs on their competitors
Medieval historians have long stressed the prominence of international trade relative to domestic trade' (Postan, 1973, 14). One reason for this was that the poor state of the roads often made international trade cheaper than domestic trade because water transport was so much more efficient than land transport. The usury prohibition provides an additional explanation. Lane (1966) speculated that this might have been beneficial, since capital was diverted from funding consumption to investment. But it seems equally likely that funds that otherwise might have been invested in domestic industry were instead sent abroad, since it was always easier to raise funds for an overseas venture than it was for a domestic one, if only because the credit instruments available were largely based upon foreign exchange. In capital starved economies, the effects of this incentive on the allocation of capital could have been substantial
More generally, regulations that increase transaction costs retard economic development, not only because they reduce the total volume of trade, but also because they reduce the proportion of trade conducted in the impersonal sphere relative to the proportion of trade that was personalized. The transition from informal credit arrangements to a system of formal or impersonal credit was distorted by the usury prohibition. In small-scale or close-knit societies, bilateral credit agreements can exist informally and, to the extent that credit relations are reciprocal, there may be sucient incentives for individuals to lend without charging interest. But in larger-scale or more fluid societies, contracts are necessary, since creditor{debtor relations require third-party enforcement; furthermore, since in such societies, credit relations are unlikely to be reciprocal or repeated over time, such contracts will invariably be interest bearing. A final implication of this is that the prohibition on interest was likely to impose the highest costs in the most commercially developed parts of Europe. We would predict that that it was in the Italian city states that the most resources would have be devoted to evading the prohibition, and this is consistent with what historians have found.
Historians have supposed that increased levels of commercialization and market activity must have eroded the atavistic norm against interest. They supposed that economic incentives would undermine inefficient cultural or social norms. This view is similar to the `efficient institution' hypothesis advanced by Clark that `institutions destructive of output will be reformed'. The analysis provided here suggests that this framework is flawed. The usury prohibition transferred resources from borrowers to elite merchant-bankers, rulers, and the Church. It did so by distorting capital markets. Direct transfers would have been less inefficient, but direct taxation was difficult to justify, while the costs imposed by the usury prohibition were indirect and largely invisible. This example shows how institutions can persist, not because they are efficient, but because they are consonant with existing power relations in society.
The usury prohibition created monopoly rents which made it possible for the Church, the state and international merchant-bankers to benefit from the suppression of usury. It was this shared interest that made the usury prohibition a self enforcing institution. It cemented a partnership between the leading merchant-bankers, secular rulers, and the Church, and because it shaped the beliefs and expectations of medieval society as a whole, it generated behavior that reinforced and perpetuated its own existence.
Para la hipótesis general, véase NORTH/WALLIS/WEINGAST Violence and Social Orders: cuanto más abiertas son las Sociedades, más difícil es que perduren las instituciones ineficientes.

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