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Lawyers as Trusted Agents in Nineteenth-Century American Commerce: The Influence of Fiduciary Law and Norms on Economic Development

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 October 2019

Abstract

The role of fiduciary law in the development of North American capitalism has been overlooked by institutional economists, who interpret fiduciary law as a form of contract and make the judicial enforcement of contract central to the transaction-cost theory of economic development. This article argues that the emergence of distinctive, equity-based fiduciary laws and norms significantly influenced the development and growth of early-nineteenth-century American markets. Our historical research identifies lawyers as important economic actors, who served as catalysts for the emergence of this governance culture. Lawyers adopted fiduciary principles that allowed them to become trusted intermediaries, thereby addressing the agency-cost problems inherent in complex economic exchange that vex the institutionalists’ contractual account of economic development.

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Copyright
© 2019 American Bar Foundation 

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Footnotes

The authors wish to thank Anya Bernstein, Guyora Binder, Kate Brown, Todd Brown, Matthew Dimick, David Hausman, Josh Hausman, Dan Klerman, Camillo Arturo Leslie, Errol Meidinger, Anthony O’Rourke, John Henry Schlegel, Jeff Simard, Rick Su, and Adam Wolkoff. The authors also wish to thank the anonymous reviewers at Law & Social Inquiry for their constructive comments. Michael Halberstam is grateful to Jeffrey Gordon and Columbia Law School’s Center for Law and Economic Studies for their generous support. Justin Simard is grateful to the Jack Miller Center and Northwestern University for their generous support.

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