Access, Fairness, and Transaction Costs: Nikophon's Law on Silver Coinage (Athens: 375/4 BC)
Posted: 10 Jul 2009
Date Written: July 9, 2009
Several distinctive, and initially puzzling features of Nikophon's law on silver coinage (Rhodes/Osborne 25) become clear in light of the Athenian state's attempt to drive down transaction costs in order to maintain Athenian public revenues and private profits in the post-imperial era. I suggest that the law was explicitly intended to even the playing field of trade by ensuring non-citizens access to an impartial system of coin verification (the dokimastai), and to dispute resolution mechanisms (the People's courts). Nikophon's law is a relatively early example of the Athenian state's concern for adjusting established institutions with an eye toward lowering the transaction costs associated with trading in the Athenian market through reducing information and legal asymmetries. A similar concern recurs in the mid-fourth century "maritime cases" (dikai emporikai) and in Xenophon's mid-century text, the Poroi. Adapted from Ober, Democracy and Knowlege, chapter 6.
Keywords: state’s capacity, Athens, transaction costs, Nikophon, silver coinage, formal rules, fairness, sanctions
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