Table of Contents

Handbook on the Economics of Reciprocity and Social Enterprise

Handbook on the Economics of Reciprocity and Social Enterprise

Elgar original reference

Edited by Luigino Bruni and Stefano Zamagni

The recent era of economic turbulence has generated a growing enthusiasm for an increase in new and original economic insights based around the concepts of reciprocity and social enterprise. This stimulating and thought-provoking Handbook not only encourages and supports this growth, but also emphasises and expands upon new topics and issues within the economics discourse.

Chapter 1: Altruism

Luca Zarri

Subjects: economics and finance, behavioural and experimental economics, economic psychology, public sector economics, politics and public policy, social entrepreneurship, social policy and sociology, economics of social policy


In naturally occurring environments, altruism is a widespread phenomenon. People often decide to sacrifice time, give away money and make other valuable gifts (e.g. blood and organ donations) to others. Data on charitable giving indicate that, in the US, roughly 90 percent of individuals donate money every year, also thanks to numerous capital campaigns, with fundraising techniques such as phoneathons, door-to-door drives, and mail solicitations being more and more popular. The time devoted to charities by volunteers is a vital resource for many organizations providing services in important domains such as education, health care or childcare. Free and open-source software developers (e.g. Linux) and volunteers contributing to the implementation of collaborative web-based projects perform a similar function on line. The multilingual encyclopedia Wikipedia is a well-known example of a global public good (accessed by 365 million readers) which has been mainly voluntarily provided and maintained for several years. But altruism also manifests itself in the workplace, with employees going beyond their duties and providing unpaid efforts unrelated to bonuses or promotions. Tipping takes place even when patrons are far away from home in restaurants never likely to be visited again. Similar one-shot interactions may occur for responses to survey requests by researchers (e.g. on a train or a plane) or to questions posed by Internet search services users. Sometimes individuals even save unknown people at the risk of their own life. One-off appeals for disaster relief often raise a great deal of money from contributions from a large number of individuals.

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