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Comment Guido Calabresi The three papers I am to discuss appear to alternate between viewing altruism as a commodity which has value in our individual preference functions, and as a tool or device which might be useful in achieving an efficient allocation of other goods. Let us assume that Taney is altruistic-that is, he gets pleasure from Marshall's well-being- or even that Taney gets pleasure from the existence of altruism in the world-that is, that he gets pleasure from Marshall's getting pleasure from Chase's well-being. One may view these preferences of Taney's as matters to be taken into account in determining which institutional structures are most likely to maximize total utility, or one may view them as of no consequences in themselves, but as useful devices for maximizing utility in relation to other goods. In the first sense altruism is a good whose quantity directly affects the level of social welfare, but which, for reasons I shall advert to later, is hard to determine in ways we use to determine the production of other goods. In the second sense, altruism can be examined in the same way coercion, or trading among individuals with atomistic, independent, utility functions are treated, namely as devices which are costly to establish and whose relative desirability depends essentially on how efficiently they achieve, in comparison with alternative devices, something like an optimal allocation of resources in a given area. In fact, altruism, trust, and most of the other attitudes that have been discussed are both goods in themselves (in that individuals get pleasure from them and from having others have them) and 57 58 • ALTRUISM, MORALITY, AND ECONOMIC THEORY devices for allocating other goods (in that their existence modifies or even substitutes for the workings of other methods of allocation). The point, then, is that both ways of approaching altruism are analytically useful, but one must be very careful as to which approach one is taking, for confusion is very easy. It should be clear that altruism is not needed as a device to accomplish an optimal allocation of resources if one is prepared to accept an assumption of no transaction costs, using that phrase in the broad sense which Coase uses.l Similarly, altruism as a device is not needed if one accepts the presuppositions of a Walrasian general equilibrium model. It is also clear that the moment one drops some of these presuppositions, or assumes some impediments to transactions, theoretical situations can be described where the presence of altruism will make possible the achieving of a more efficient result than would its absence. Conversely, one can also describe theoretical situations where the existence of altruism would lead to a less efficient result.2 The issue then is no more whether altruism is a good or bad device in the abstract than it is whether collective production is, in the abstract, desirable. It is rather in what real situations are the conditions which make altruism desirable likely to be present and when are they likely to be absent. Similarly, the optimization of altruism, viewed as a good in itself, presents no problems if one assumes a Coasian perfect world. If instead, one drops such unrealistic assumptions, then the determination of how a society produces the optimal amount of altruism becomes very hard indeed. Here it is well to distinguish, as Kenneth Arrow does, several forms of altruism. In the first, Taney gets pleasure from helping Marshall. Taney cares only about his own act, not its actual effect. In the second, Taney gets pleasure from choosing to help Marshall but only if Marshall is thereby made better off and this, let us assume, requires that others help Marshall too. Taney cares about participating freely, but only given a beneficial result for Marshall. In the third, Taney gets pleasure from Marshall's being better off, but gets no pleasure from participating in making Marshall better off. Taney just cares about the result; participation in achieving it makes no difference. Finally, in the fourth, Taney gets pleasure from the fact that others get pleasure in helping Marshall.3 The first case presents few problems; Taney can decide for himself how much to benefit Marshall. The third presents typical public-good type 1 See Coase, "The Problem of Social Cost," 3 Journal of Law & Economics 1 (1960). Cf. Calabresi, "Transaction Cost, Resource Allocation and Liability Rules-A Comment," 11 Journal of Law & Economics 67 (1968). 2 I assume that the...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781610446792
Related ISBN
9780871546593
MARC Record
OCLC
908573169
Pages
242
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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