For the second session of the Mellon Sawyer Seminar Lectures on February 23, 2018, Duke Law’s Barak Richman, Professor of Anti-Trust and Contracts, spoke on his recently published book, Stateless Commerce: The Diamond Network and the Persistence of Relational Exchange. Professor Richman’s work has been over a decade in the making and a lecture that he gave on an earlier version of one of his chapters provided the fortuitous meeting that brought this seminar series together.
Professor Richman opened the session by telling the story of the book’s evolved. Although Chapters 6-7 were selected for intensive preparation as they bore the closest relationship to the corporation seminar’s subject matter, Richman began by explaining Chapters 3 and 4—those he termed the point of inception for the book and its material core. Chapter 3 deals with enforcement of credit and contract agreement within the diamond industry—something that Richman found to be remarkable given the extraordinary amounts of trust involved among business partners in place of the more routine kind of credit sale that would be secured by the courts. Richman detailed how instead New York City’s Jewish diamond merchants along with other ethnic groups in the diamond industry use a pre-modern mechanism of enforcement based upon communal and familial pressures to guarantee these transactions of immense value.
After having accepted the premise in Chapter 3, Professor Richman concerned himself in Chapter 4 with why the actors within the diamond industry don’t turn to other things that are available. Specifically, Richman was interested in why the diamond industry looked so different and why these pre-modern organizational structures were – a reason that his economist training led him to suspect was efficiency related.
Following Richman’s explanatory remarks, the conversation was opened up an audience who asked a wide array of questions. The historians in the room were as quick to point out as Richman was quick to admit that the book was written from the point of view of an economist. There were questions regarding the implications that the statelessness of the diamond industry and some of its other peculiarities might have on human rights. He noted that issues concerning the diamond network with regard to human rights are found across sectors in the global economy stemming from a diminished connection between the multistage, delocalized production of a good and the ultimate consumer. Richman stressed that his book purposefully did not answer the question of whether or not the current form of the diamond industry is a normatively good thing. Rather, it proceeds from an intentionally positivist angle and compares the diamond industry’s functions to that of other sectors.
Richman did note that, although the book is about the persistence of state-less commerce in the face of globalisation, the statelessness seems to be waning. In his view, whether ultimately that stateless is a net positive remains an open question. Most importantly, he hoped that his work is just the beginning of a conversation and expressed eagerness for the contributions of further economic and historical research into instances of stateless commerce and their effect on consumers.