Introduction: The Economics of Reciprocity, Giving and Altruism

  • Serge-Christophe Kolm
Part of the International Economic Association Series book series (IEA)


People have various ways of interacting, and in particular of transferring goods and services among themselves. They ‘truck and barter’. They also rob, force, enslave, and otherwise harm others or kill them. And they often also give: they support their families and other groups; they commonly respect their neighbours; they occasionally give to charity, save others’ lives or die for their country; and they often pay for the large public transfers for which they vote. More interestingly, people tend to provide return gifts when gifts have been given to them, and also to take revenge — and this is not only in order to induce further gifts or to deter others from causing future harm. Someone giving as a gift because she received a gift is reciprocity.2 Very generally, a notable part of life in society consists of interrelated other-oriented behaviour, motivations and sentiments which are neither exclusively self-interested ‘exchange’ nor pure unilateral gift-giving — both of which appear as borderline cases. This is the general field of reciprocity, of which the gift/return-gift relationship constitutes the simplest form and component, but which includes many steadier and more complex relations.


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© International Economic Association 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Serge-Christophe Kolm
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for Advanced Studies in the Social SciencesParisFrance

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