Friday, 27 January 2017

On the role of government in promoting altruism

an article by Enrico Colombatto, (ESOMAS, University of Turin, Italy) and Valerio Tavormina, (Department of Law, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Milan, Italy) published in International Journal of Social Economics Volume 43 Issue 11 (2016)


The purpose of this paper is to discuss whether altruism justifies ad hoc legislation with reference to three different contexts. One is defined by the libertarian notion of liberty; a second framework corresponds to the egalitarian vision; and a third one originates from social-contract theory.

The authors review two stylized visions of liberty, and consider to what extent the current legal systems comply with one of these visions. Moreover, the authors analyse the implications of the contractarian approach.

It is shown that current legislation is rather ambiguous and sometimes even contradictory. By and large, the common-law view tends to favour the libertarian approach, while the civil-law visions are closer to what one might expect from social-contract theory. In these cases, however, it seems that the letter of the law is often questioned by the academic community as well as by the judiciary, and decisions eventually follow the judges’ discretionary power.

This analysis of altruism combines the economic and legal perspectives. Although altruism is always considered an important part of social capital and worthy of privileged treatment, it is shown that policymaking is frequently inconsistent and sometimes contradictory.

JEL Classification: D64, K19, K39

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