The idea of sharing is deeply routed in our early hominid brains. French anthropologist Marcel Mauss in describing the gifting process in human culture said “There is an obligation to give, and obligation to receive, and an obligation to repay."1

Our ancestors’ roaming existence in small bands required a set of behaviors that facilitated trusting relationships. Our willingness to cooperate with strangers could mean the difference between survival and extinction. Trade and commerce are only possible with the behavioral trifecta that Mauss describes.

Herbert Ginitis , Emeritus Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts, adds another important nuance. His research suggests our cooperation is conditional. We’ll work with others as long as they treat us fairly and if we are wronged we will punish those who have behaved unfairly, even if we incur costs by doing so. The cycle of giving and receiving only work when the threat of punishment for unpaid debt looms.2

1The Gift by Marcel Mauss
2The Origin of Wealth by Eric Beinhocker and Ginitis 2000

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s