Reciprocity and the Welfare State

HANDBOOK ON THE ECONOMICS OF GIVING, RECIPROCITY AND ALTRUISM, Jean Mercier-Ythier, Serge Kolm and Louis-Andre, eds., Elsevier, Forthcoming

Posted: 19 Jul 2004

See all articles by Christina M. Fong

Christina M. Fong

Carnegie Mellon University - Department of Social and Decision Sciences

Samuel Bowles

Santa Fe Institute; University of Massachusetts

Herbert Gintis

Santa Fe Institute; Central European University

Abstract

We explore the contribution of reciprocity and other non selfish motives to the political viability of the modern welfare state. In the advanced economies, a substantial fraction of total income is regularly transferred from the better off to the less well off, with the approval of the electorate. Economists have for the most part misunderstood this process due to their endorsement of an empirically implausible theory of selfish human motivation. Drawing on anthropological, experimental, public opinion survey and other data we develop an alternative behavioral explanation for economic reasoning about sharing and insurance. In this alternative view, reciprocity motives are necessary for understanding support for and opposition to the welfare state. Modern citizens willingly share with those who uphold societal norms about what constitutes morally worthy behavior, while frequently seeking to punish those who transgress those norms, even when these actions are individually costly and yield no individual material benefit.

Keywords: Fairness, Reciprocity, Distributive Justice, Equity, Redistribution, Welfare States

JEL Classification: D63, H50

Suggested Citation

Fong, Christina M. and Bowles, Samuel and Gintis, Herbert, Reciprocity and the Welfare State. HANDBOOK ON THE ECONOMICS OF GIVING, RECIPROCITY AND ALTRUISM, Jean Mercier-Ythier, Serge Kolm and Louis-Andre, eds., Elsevier, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=565801

Christina M. Fong

Carnegie Mellon University - Department of Social and Decision Sciences ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States
412-268-8168 (Phone)

Samuel Bowles (Contact Author)

Santa Fe Institute ( email )

1399 Hyde Park Rd
Santa Fe, NM 87501
United States
505-984-8800 (Phone)
505-982-0565 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.santafe.edu

University of Massachusetts ( email )

Amherst, MA 01002
United States
413-545-2590 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www-unix.oit.umass.edu/~bowles/

Herbert Gintis

Santa Fe Institute ( email )

1399 Hyde Park Road
Santa Fe, NM 87501
United States

Central European University

Nador utca 9
Budapest, H-1051
Hungary
413-586-7756 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www-unix.oit.umass.edu/~gintis

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