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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 23: Mutualism

Vera Negri Zamagni

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


Mutualism or mutuality has at least three meanings. At the highest level, it is a doctrine according to which individual and collective wellbeing can be obtained only by common action. It is the operational content of the third principle of modern societies – fraternity – which prevents the first principle – liberty – from undermining the second principle – equality. Mutuality can be seen as the sense of common citizenship that leads people to limit their liberty and accept a certain amount of basic equality conditions among citizens (Halsey, 1978). Mutualism provides the long run stability and cohesion of modern societies, helping to overcome the ‘collective goods’ problem specified by the rational choice theorists. The word seems to have being used in the 1820s more or less at the same time by Charles Fourier in France, John Gray in Britain and some of the American friendly societies and was often employed by the non-Marxist socialists like Proudhon and the American Clarence Lee Swartz, author of a famous book on mutualism (Swartz, 1927), in which he writes in favour of private property and against communism. For this reason, often mutualism was advocated by the so-called ‘libertarian left’, but not only by this school of thought, and does contain a more or less extended critique of capitalism as an economic system that does not embody either equality or fraternity, a critique that does not prevent mutualists when they form an enterprise from staying in the market and competing with capitalists.

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