Rarely do I have the opportunity to report on experimental evidence about trade. Here’s Erik Kimbrough, Bart Wilson, and Vernon Smith in the AER on Historical Property Rights, Sociality, and the Emergence of Impersonal Exchange in Long-Distance Trade:
This laboratory experiment explores the extent to which impersonal exchange emerges from personal exchange with opportunities for long-distance trade. We design a three-commodity production and exchange economy in which agents in three geographically separated villages must develop multilateral exchange networks to import a good only available abroad. For treatments, we induce two distinct institutional histories to investigate how past experience with property rights affects the evolution of specialization and exchange. We find that a history of unenforced property rights hinders our subjects’ ability to develop the requisite personal social arrangements to support specialization and effectively exploit impersonal long-distance trade.