Reciprocity in the Civil Economy: a Critical Assessment

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The civil economy approach is an attempt to reconcile economic market interactions with the normative standards of traditional virtue ethics. We analyze critically some of its main elements with a special focus on the concept of reciprocity, which plays a central role in the whole approach. Its strengths include, among others, virtue orientation, emphasis on happiness rather than utility, and in particular the notion of reciprocity. However, we argue that this concept of reciprocity would on average not be incentive compatible, and from a methodological point of view, the implied hypothesis of a homo reciprocans is not a viable alternative to the standard model of homo oeconomicus. We also consider that the approach is not entirely new, as it shares many characteristics with the social market economy conception.

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