For individuals to enter mutually beneficial exchange relationships they have to recognise them as such and they have to be able to commit to fulfil their contractual obligations. The ways in which a society's institutions mitigate this fundamental problem of exchange determine its efficiency and distribution. This article calls attention to the need, ability, and promise of studying the historical evolution of institutions that mitigated the fundamental problem of exchange. It elaborates on the essence of this problem and the related institutions, and demonstrates the ability and importance of studying them by drawing on various studies of historical institutions. Our understanding of the different economic performances and evolutions of various societies over time can be greatly enhanced by studying how they mitigated the fundamental problem of exchange.

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