The Politics of Order in Informal Markets: Evidence from Lagos

Working Paper
Published on 2 October 2019
Authors
Shelby Grossman

Abstract

Property rights are important for economic exchange, but in much of the world they are not publicly guaranteed. Private market associations can fill this gap by providing an institutional structure to enforce agreements, but with this power comes the ability to extort from group members. Under what circumstances do private associations provide a stable environment for economic activity? Using survey data collected from 1,179 randomly sampled traders across 199 markets in Lagos, Grossman (2019) finds that markets maintain institutions to support trade not in the absence of government, but rather in response to active government interference. The author argues that associations develop pro-trade institutions when threatened by politicians they perceive to be predatory, and when the organization can respond with threats of its own; the latter is easier when traders are not competing with each other. In order to maintain this balance of power, the association will not extort because it needs trader support to maintain the credibility of its threats to mobilize against predatory politicians.

Authors