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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 17: Gifts and gratuitousness

Serge-Christophe Kolm

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


Your mirror-neurons make you enjoy other people’s satisfaction and feel sadness for other people’s pain or sadness. This empathy goes along with a propensity (you feel it as an inducement) to give to others and help them for an altruistic motive or reason, and to praise and value people who give to and help others. Since you like to be praised (and hence to be praiseworthy), this also induces you to give and help. This judgment by most others then crystallizes into a social norm, which just says that it is advisable, good, and sometimes required to give, and is also a moral norm. This is particularly important concerning other people’s pain and the corresponding compassion and desire to relieve. Neuro-imagery also shows that people are gratified not only by what they have and by what other needy people receive, but also by their choosing a transfer from them to the other, by their being responsible for it (see below). Moreover, your mirror-neurons also tend to induce you to imitate other givers or helpers. Gift-giving, in the most general understanding, is an action which is costly or painful in any sense for the giver or helper, and is made to favour the receiver in any sense. The first experience of a human life is receiving gifts and help from the care of a mother who also ‘gives’ birth and life to begin with. Receiving such care is also most often the last experience of a life.

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