It’s quite possible to turn honor into money, almost impossible to convert money into honor

In all such matters, reputation was crucial—in fact, one lively debate in early commercial law was over the question of whether reputation could (like land, labor, money, or other resources) itself be considered a form of capital.

It sometimes happened that merchants would form partnerships with no capital at all, but only their good names. This was called “partnership of good reputation.”

As one legal scholar explained: As for the credit partnership, it is also called the “partnership of the penniless” (sharika al-mafalis). It comes about when two people form a partnership without any capital in order to buy on credit and then sell. It is designated by this name partnership of good reputations because their capital consists of their status and good reputations; for credit is extended only to him who has a good reputation among people.

Some legal scholars objected to the idea that such a contract could be considered legally binding, since it was not based on an initial outlay of material capital; others considered it legitimate, provided the partners make an equitable partition of the profits—since reputation cannot be quantified.

The remarkable thing here is the tacit recognition that, in a credit economy that operates largely without state mechanisms of enforcement (without police to arrest those who commit fraud, or bailiffs to seize a debtor’s property), a significant part of the value of a promissory note is indeed the good name of the signatory.

As Pierre Bourdieu was later to point out in describing a similar economy of trust in contemporary Algeria: it’s quite possible to turn honor into money, almost impossible to convert money into honor.


This is one of the many passages and charts I find in books and articles on a daily basis. They span many disciplines, including:

I occasionally add a personal note to them.

The whole collection is available here.