“Connection, not affection, is the defining characteristic of a community”
Samuel Bowles (2004: 474)
Unrequited transfers are gifts and contributions of all sorts that, by definition, entail no quid pro quo. These sorts of transfers, through which people or groups of people give help and advantages, may be inspired by all sorts of motivations, and they may bind donors and recipients in reciprocal relations or not. The central feature of these transfers is that they are other-regarding or altruistic. Diverse forms of solidarity organizations and institutions have emerged to govern such transfers. In the rest of this paper, we will use philanthropy or gift interchangeably to connote the relationships, arrangements and organizations underpinning such unrequited transfers.
There is a good deal of neglect of and a fair degree of suspicion about gift organizations. Over time, citizens have developed a much greater trust in the reliability of quid pro quo market exchange and state coercion as coordination mechanisms than in the power of altruism and giving.
Yet this presumption may be unwarranted.
From Richard Titmuss (1970) to Francis Fukuyama (1995) to Elinor Ostrom (2005), many have shown that the gift/solidarity relationship is a very powerful coordination mechanism that can work (under certain circumstances) as effectively and efficiently as the price mechanism or the state process. Indeed, solidarity arrangements can often carry out coordination tasks that neither of the other mechanisms can accomplish. (Gintis et al., 2005).
We know that, in small groups and under restrictive conditions, gift and solidarity work. What is less clear is to what extent and under what conditions these findings can be generalized to broader and looser situations.
This paper would like to help fill a portion of this gap.
We begin by quickly reviewing the broad range of coordination mechanisms in good currency, and explain where the gift relationship fits in it. Then, the existing literature that seems to make the case for solidarity as coordination mechanism is examined briefly: it was first developed on an ad hoc basis from limited empirical studies, but, in more recent times, behavioral scientists’ experimental work has shown that other-regarding behavior and ensuing collaboration are much more prevalent and potent than had been presumed previously.
We follow by reflecting on three broad legacies (charity, commons, and honneur) on which philanthropic organizations have been built, and identify the different sets of constraints and blockages that these three strands face. Next, we suggest a conceptual framework to deal more directly with the governance challenges with which these strands are confronted. And finally, we put forward some modest general propositions that may provide guidance in the governance of the solidarity sector. The conclusion reflects briefly on the speculation in good currency that solidarity governance is likely to become more important in the future.