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Reciprocity: Its Scope, Rationales, and Consequences

In: Handbook of the Economics of Giving, Altruism and Reciprocity


  • Kolm, Serge-Christophe


Reciprocity is one of the main basic social relations that constitute societies. It consists of being favourable to others because others are favourable to you (and not from an exchange in the strict sense). It rests on three possible rationales: (1) balance (comparison, matching), often related to equality and fairness, or to the desire to avoid moral indebtedness; (2) liking because being purposefully favoured induces liking which induces favouring, or because liking can directly result from being liked; (3) self-sustaining sequences of mutual favours, which can be solely self-interested (and are not in fact proper reciprocity). Reciprocity extends to important cases of aids inducing aids that are not strictly reciprocal. It has essential social roles in permitting general peace in freedom and respect of rights, the decentralized correction of many "market failures", the efficient working of organizations of all types through mutual trust and support, and basic relations between individuals and collectivities and governments. It constitutes the essential relation in families and genuine cooperatives, and it is present in all communities. It explains deviations from competitive equilibria, and it is closely involved in questions of development. The theory of reciprocity shows and compares the various types of solutions of the reciprocity game. Reciprocity is compared with other modes of transfers. Ways of explaining it are proposed. Its normative uses associate efficiency, fairness, and the intrinsic quality of social relations.

Suggested Citation

  • Kolm, Serge-Christophe, 2006. "Reciprocity: Its Scope, Rationales, and Consequences," Handbook on the Economics of Giving, Reciprocity and Altruism, in: S. Kolm & Jean Mercier Ythier (ed.), Handbook of the Economics of Giving, Altruism and Reciprocity, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 6, pages 371-541, Elsevier.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:givchp:1-06

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    Blog mentions

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    1. HowTo: Altruism and the “Warm Glow” effect
      by zooeygoethe in Economic Objectorvism on 2007-12-27 00:01:33


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    Cited by:

    1. Jean Mercier-Ythier, 2010. "The Aggregation of Individual Distributive Preferences through the Distributive Liberal Social Contract : Normative Analysis," Working Papers of BETA 2010-01, Bureau d'Economie Théorique et Appliquée, UDS, Strasbourg.
    2. Mitrut, Andreea & Nordblom, Katarina, 2010. "Social norms and gift behavior: Theory and evidence from Romania," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 54(8), pages 998-1015, November.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification


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