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Edited by Jürgen G. Backhaus
28 General norms and customs Jean-Michel Josselin and Alain Marciano Introduction Economic interactions between individuals take place within institutions which can be deﬁned either as informal constraints (sanctions, customs, taboos, traditions and codes of conduct) or as formal rules (constitutions, laws, property rights) (North, 1991). Social norms or general norms can be deﬁned as the broader set of rules including informal constraints and formal rules. Therefore, the set of general norms can be delineated by the nature of agreements among individuals. A basic distinction is thus possible between conventions, which are tacit rules, and institutions, which result solely from an explicit and formal agreement among individuals. Customs belong to the ﬁrst subset of general social norms, deﬁned as informal and tacitly agreed rules. Using economic tools, we shall deﬁne customs and show how their properties are those of conventional norms. Then, we shall study the boundaries within which they are supposed to be obeyed. Finally, we shall examine the conditions under which customs ground legal rules and compare them to other sources of the law. Customs as conventional rules The formation process of customary law has frequently been analysed from the positive perspective of the description of some particular types of societies or practices. International trade is frequently quoted as a signiﬁcant example (Benson, 1998a, 1998b). Primitive (Landa, 1983; Benson, 1991) or medieval (Greif, 1989; Milgrom et al., 1990, Greif et al., 1994) societies also provide evidence that help us to understand how customary rules...
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