Self-Enforcing Political System and Economic Growth: Late Medieval Genoa


56 Pages Posted: 28 Jan 1998

See all articles by Avner Greif

Avner Greif

Stanford University - Department of Economics; Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR)

Date Written: November 1997


This paper presents a micro-level historical and theoretical analysis of Genoa's economic and political history during the twelfth and thirteenth century by examining the factors influencing the extent to which its political system was self-enforcing and their change over time. It combines narrative and theoretical analysis to resolve questions that can not be resolved by either narrative or theory alone. Although the Genoese Commune was voluntarily established in the hope to gain from economic and political cooperation, sustaining its self-enforcing nature constrained such cooperation. Cooperation was thus determined by the magnitude of factors, such as external military threat that relaxed this constraint. It took a century before learning and the increasing cost of non-cooperation induced organizational innovation that enhanced economic growth and political order by fostering the extent to which Genoa was a self-enforcing political system irrespectively of external threat.

JEL Classification: N43, N73, O1

Suggested Citation

Greif, Avner, Self-Enforcing Political System and Economic Growth: Late Medieval Genoa (November 1997). 97-037, Available at SSRN: or

Avner Greif (Contact Author)

Stanford University - Department of Economics ( email )

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Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) ( email )

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