In my 2011 book, The Fair Society: The Science of Human Nature and the Pursuit of Social Justice (University of Chicago Press), I proposed a new vision of social justice based on three biologically-grounded fairness principles which, I maintain, must be combined and balanced in order to achieve a society that is fair to everyone. These three fairness principles are equality, equity, and reciprocity, and they are derived from the emerging, multi-disciplinary science of human nature and the mounting evidence that a sense of fairness is an evolved and distinctively human behavioral trait.
Among other things, the book calls for a new “biosocial contract” that includes a “basic needs guarantee” as an equal right and a societal responsibility, along with full recognition for personal “merit” (equity) and a strong obligation for reciprocity to balance the scales and repay the benefits that we receive. One could think of this paradigm as being like a stool with three legs that, in effect, work together to support the weight that is put on it. Or perhaps better said, the sacred temple of a fair society requires three sturdy pillars to support it, and anything less will be unstable and prone to failure over the course of time. While the terms equality, equity, and reciprocity are already familiar to us, each has a very specific meaning in relation to the Fair Society model that may be quite different from what you would expect. Let’s start with the all-important concept of equality.
The Concept of Equality
Equality is, of course, an ethical and legal principle with very deep roots in humankind that can be traced back even to our pre-history as a species. It is now generally accepted that our remote ancestors lived in small egalitarian groups that shared the benefits and burdens of cooperative social life and collectively resisted any individual tendencies to assert dominance or obtain special advantages. This pattern has been called a “reverse dominance hierarchy” by the anthropologist Christopher Boehm, who has documented a similar social pattern among contemporary hunter-gatherer societies. (1) Likewise, anthropologist Donald Brown, in his more comprehensive study of “human universals” (the title of his landmark 1991 book), found that cooperative decision making, personal rights and obligations, empathy, and sharing exist in every hunter-gatherer society, regardless of the superficial cultural differences between them. (2)
In more complex modern societies such as our own, the concept of personal equality has been manifested in many different ways. In Western religions, “equality in the sight of God” is a bedrock principle. Equality before the law is deeply embedded in our legal tradition. Modern democratic electoral systems generally espouse the principle of “one man, one vote,” even though they often fall short of this ideal in practice. In English and American common law there is also the public trust doctrine, the idea that some resources are held in common for the equal benefit of every citizen. The concept of personal equality is also enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence (1776), which famously asserts that “all men are created equal, and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights…” This foundational premise has since been echoed in many other constitutional and political contexts.
In the modern era, equality has also assumed an immensely important economic connotation as well. Ever since the industrial revolution and the emergence of modern capitalism — with its extremes of wealth and poverty – inequality in the distribution of income and wealth has often been a flashpoint for social and political conflict in different societies. Indeed, the modern socialist ideal of economic equality arose as a response to these deep economic disparities.
The roots of socialism can be traced back to the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (1754) and his most famous essay, The Social Contract (1762). (3) Rousseau was appalled by the decadence all around him in pre-revolutionary France and was outraged that “a handful of men be glutted with superfluities while the starving multitude lacks necessities.”(4) He believed passionately that humans are naturally good and cooperative and that they are inherently social beings who are suited by nature for living in communal (and moral) societies. Rousseau argued that existing societies had become corrupted by the unbridled pursuit of self-interest. “Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains,” he famously declaimed.(5)
To Rousseau, the community as a whole has a higher moral status than our individual property rights. “The right which each individual has to his own estate is always subordinate to the right which the community has over all.” While he was not opposed to the idea of private property, Rousseau rejected the assertion that it constitutes an inherent “natural right,” as some theorists had claimed. Indeed, “the social order is a sacred right which is the basis of all other rights.”(6) Rousseau also developed the idea of a “general will” — a term that is roughly equivalent to our concept of the public interest – to characterize his moral claim on behalf of the community over any private rights, and he called for a return to small, democratic communities sharing a common language, culture, and common property. (It seems Rousseau’s intuition about our remote ancestors was essentially correct.)
Needless to say, Rousseau’s conclusions had revolutionary implications. It is not surprising that his books have sometimes been banned, or burned. He also provided the conceptual and moral foundation for Karl Marx’s vision of a communist society and for the brutally effective rationalizations that were used by Lenin, Stalin and Mao during the two great communist revolutions of the twentieth century, as well as an assortment of more moderate socialist reformers, from T.H. Green and the Oxford Idealists to the Fabian socialists, socialist political parties in various countries and, more recently, the self-defined Communitarians.
For succeeding generations of socialists and capitalists alike, the heart of the political debate has always involved property rights (and the claims for self-interest) versus some conception of the “common good” or the “public interest.” On the one hand, the philosopher John Locke argued that private property was justified when a man “mixes his labor” with the land (say a farmer) and makes it productive.(7) On the other hand, the early socialist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, focusing his anger on the hereditary property holdings of the landed aristocracy (who often received their land as gifts from a “grateful” monarch), wrote a book length rant against private property. “Property is theft….Property is despotism…. [Socialism] is an aspiration towards the amelioration of society,” he asserted.(8) Among other things, Proudhon argued that land rents were “unearned” and therefore were not justified. Proudhon also envisioned an egalitarian redistribution of wealth among the peasants and workers.
Karl Marx came to a similar vision of a communist society but via a different route. The moral foundation for Marx’s call to redistribute the wealth was his theory of surplus value and his charge that the working class in the capitalist industrial system was being irretrievably exploited. Marx argued that it is labor, after all, that is primarily responsible for the production of material goods and services. So, to simplify a bit, if the workers are able to produce “surpluses” (i.e., profits) that exceed what is required for their subsistence, and if the property owners appropriate these excess profits for themselves, they are in effect stealing it from the workers.(9)
Modern economists reject Marx’s argument, of course. Many factors contribute to the production of profits in a complex business enterprise. Investment capital and entrepreneurship are extremely important ingredients, and so is technology, organization, management and, needless to say, the benefits of a division of labor (or, as I prefer to call it, a “combination of labor”). The “value” of any product or service is therefore not a simple function of the quantity of labor involved.
Marx’s argument is untenable, but so is the capitalist claim that a capital investment and the risks associated with it, necessarily confers exclusive ownership rights and therefore entitles the investor to whatever surpluses/profits are produced by the enterprise, or the “firm”. (The related accusation that taxes on wealth are a form of “theft” is equally untenable.) It is certainly true that this is very often the way capitalist economies work in practice, and an enormous body of laws and legal precedents undergird this system. But it is certainly not a reflection of some natural law. (Note that, in each of the cases cited above, the justification for how the wealth should be distributed hinges on what is considered fair, or just. We will return to this important point below.)
Equality in the Fair Society Model
In the Fair Society paradigm, the term “equality” has a very different meaning and, I believe, makes a more compelling moral claim. It is focused on our “basic needs.” The argument, in a nutshell, is that every society must give priority to meeting the basic survival and reproductive needs of its people as an equal social right. This right is grounded in a biological imperative, yet it is also circumscribed and limited. I call it our “prime directive.” The reasoning behind it is as follows:
The ground-zero premise (so to speak) of the biological sciences is that survival and reproduction is the basic, continuing, inescapable problem for all living organisms; life is at bottom a “survival enterprise.” Furthermore, the survival and reproduction problem is multi-faceted and relentless. It is a problem that can never be permanently solved. Thus, an organized, interdependent human society is quintessentially a “collective survival enterprise.” This tap-root assumption about the human condition is hardly news, but we very often deny it, or downgrade it, or simply lose touch with it. Our fundamental collective purpose is to provide for the basic survival and reproductive needs of our people — past, present and future. In effect, we are all parties to a biologically-based (albeit implicit) social contract. In fact, humans are not unique in this respect; all other socially-organized species in the natural world have a similar kind of tacit biological contract.
This “biosocial” contract, and the imperatives associated with it, encompasses the preponderance of human activity, and human choices, worldwide. To be sure, survival per se may be the furthest thing from our conscious minds as we go about our daily lives. Nevertheless, our mundane daily routines and preoccupations are mostly instrumental to meeting the underlying survival challenge. They reflect the particular survival strategy — the package of cultural, economic, and political tools — through which each society organizes and pursues the ongoing survival enterprise.
Accordingly, the first and most important generalization about “human nature” is that each of us is defined, in considerable measure, by an array of some fourteen categories of “basic needs” that are essential to our survival and reproductive success, and we come into the world being oriented to the satisfaction of these needs.(10) The fourteen “primary needs” domains (so called because a number of them are multi-faceted) include a number of obvious items, like adequate nutrition, fresh water, physical safety, physical and mental health, and waste elimination, as well as some items that we may take for granted like thermoregulation (which can entail many different technologies, from clothing to heating oil and even air conditioning), along with adequate sleep (about one-third of our lives), mobility, and even healthy respiration, which cannot always be assured. Perhaps least obvious but most important are the requisites for the reproduction and nurturance of the next generation. (A more detailed discussion of these points can be found in Chapter Five of The Fair Society.)
In the Fair Society model, a “basic needs guarantee” is advanced as a social right. The justification for this societal obligation is as follows: (1) our basic needs are increasingly well understood and documented; (2) our individual needs vary somewhat, but in general they are equally shared; (3) we are (almost all of us) dependent upon many others, and our economy as a whole (the collective survival enterprise), for the satisfaction of these needs; and (4) significant harm will result if any of these needs are not satisfied. (It is worth noting that no conservative theorist — that I know of — would defend individual property rights when they cause harm to others. Even John Locke, the patron saint of property rights, observed that the “Fundamental, Sacred, and unalterable Law of Self-Preservation” forms the very basis of society and creates a responsibility for government to protect this right.)(11)
The idea of providing a “basic needs guarantee” may seem radically new – a utopian moral aspiration, or perhaps warmed over Marxism. However, it is important to stress that a basic needs guarantee is not about providing an equal share of the wealth, nor does it involve an open-ended social commitment. It involves a specific and ultimately limited set of criteria for social action, with measurable indicators for assessing the outcomes. Moreover, it is not an unattainable goal. Some societies — Norway being perhaps the premier example – have already achieved this objective through a rich mixture of full employment, generous social welfare programs, a well developed infrastructure, and supportive public policies and practices.
In sum, the principle of equality in the Fair Society model relates specifically to fulfilling the widely-accepted, “self-evident” moral principle of a “right to life.” The right to life does not end at birth; it extends throughout our lives. Moreover, it is a prerequisite for any other rights, including liberty and “the pursuit of happiness.” The right to life necessarily implies the “means” for life. Otherwise this right is meaningless. It is also a concrete floor where everyone is approximately equal and where everyone is equally deprived if any of their basic needs is not satisfied. And because (to repeat) almost all of us are dependent upon the “collective survival enterprise” to obtain the means for our personal needs, the right to life therefore imposes on society and its members a life-long mutual obligation to provide for one another’s basic needs. This is the fundamental promise of the “biosocial contract,” and it ultimately trumps individual property rights.
Fairness and the Principle of “Equity”
The second of the three “pillars” of the Fair Society paradigm involves the principle of equity, or “merit” – differential rewards for the many differences among us in terms of talent, hard work, achievement, and, as the saying goes, “playing by the rules.” While the equality principle takes precedence under the biosocial contract, the merit precept is concerned with how to fairly distribute the economic surpluses of a society – the excess beyond what is required to provide for our basic needs.
The merit idea traces back at least to Plato’s great dialogue, the Republic. (12) For Plato, social justice consists of “giving every man his due” (and every woman, of course). There have been countless debates through the centuries over what Plato meant by the word “due”, but a common sense interpretation is that the rewards provided by society should start with a person’s all-important basic needs but also reflect their contributions to society (and, by the same token, should include punishments for any misdeeds). Plato clearly did not mean equality per se. Rather, he meant an equitable portion in accordance with some criterion of fairness — a fair share. In other words, for Plato it was important to recognize differences in merit and to reward (or punish) them accordingly. His great student, Aristotle, used the term “proportionate equality.” (There is also a voluminous scholarly literature, especially in welfare economics, on Aristotle’s related concept of “distributive equity.”)(13)
Socialist theory, given its strong egalitarian emphasis, has not as a rule shown much concern for the moral claims associated with merit. But, in the Fair Society paradigm, the principle of equity, or merit, cannot be discounted. The equity principle reflects what could be called the deep psychology of fairness – our strong desire to be recognized and honored for our efforts and achievements (see The Fair Society, Chapter Four). This recognition may or may not take the form of material rewards. Non-monetary forms of acknowledgement — from audience applause to Boy Scout merit badges and mass-produced, low-cost sports trophies – are often sufficient as rewards; social approval by itself is a powerful motivator of human behavior. But in the economic sphere, income is obviously of primary importance.
The question is, how can we be fair-minded about rewarding our many differences in terms of merit, or punishing our transgressions? Merit, like the term fairness itself, has an elusive quality; it does not denote some absolute standard. It is relational, and context-specific, and subject to all manner of cultural norms and practices. In general, it implies that the rewards a person receives should be proportionate to his or her effort, or investment, or contribution. For example, no sane person would ever claim that he won the lottery on his merits. Nor is theft considered meritorious, no matter how skillfully it is executed.
Indeed, in the economic sphere, merit is not simply a matter of what the “plaintif” thinks is fair treatment but what is socially acceptable. As is the case with fairness in general, merit very often has to split the difference. When you are asking others to reward you for your efforts, they are entitled to be stakeholders in the decision. Markets often do this in an impersonal way. If you are running a business, your sales volume is a direct measure of how other people value your goods and services, though there can also be many distortions and biases even in this supposedly objective indicator.
The great virtue of capitalism, for all its faults, is that it encourages and rewards innovation, entrepreneurship, risk-taking, and the “blood, toil, tears and sweat” (to borrow some rhetoric from Winston Churchill) that are required to create and run a successful business enterprise. Capitalism provides material incentives for behaviors that, ideally, serve the public good. At least, this is the economics textbook version of the story. The bottom-line justification for capitalism has always been that the wealth it creates is earned by the owners and is therefore deserved (merited). Moreover, it also benefits society, though it is not equally shared, of course.
Sometimes this is true, but sometimes it is not. The wealth that is generated in a given economy may be unearned by any reasonable definition of the term “merit” and, in the extreme, may actually cause “harm” to the rest of society. The many real-world shortcomings in the idealized capitalist model — what is sometimes termed “utopian capitalism” — have been given various pejorative labels: predatory capitalism, crony capitalism, casino capitalism, and the like. Indeed, it severely deflates the value of merit when an outcome is unearned, or unfairly attained. Cheating on a final exam is one obvious example. Nobody, including the cheater, has any illusion that the resulting grade is a measure of merit.
So it is important to reserve the term merit for outcomes that are earned. A person’s rewards should ultimately reflect contributions that benefit others, or the general welfare. The merit precept stakes a moral claim; it poses the right question. However, there is no simple formula for determining what is fair. Public norms, the marketplace, our representative democratic government, and our complex legal system can and do play a vital role in the imperfect art of determining what is merited in various contexts. (The important social science research domain known as “equity theory” also has much to say about the how to achieve equitable outcomes in the myriad of every-day, real-world fairness decisions.)(14)
In the Fair Society model, there must be strict adherence to the principle that the economic rewards should be based on merit, with the ultimate criterion of fairness being public acceptance. Often this will lie in some middle-ground between what the actor believes is fair and what society will accept as fair. Anything less may invite public cynicism, varying degrees of social antagonism, active opposition, and, in the extreme, even a violent revolt. But, to repeat, the provisioning of our basic needs is our first responsibility, and differential rewards for merit must be confined to our “discretionary income” as a society – to use a textbook term – or else it converts the social contract into a zero-sum game, where merit is rewarded at the expense of our basic needs. To cite one obvious example, in the United States today, approximately one-quarter of the population are living in more or less severe poverty, and the extreme income inequality in our society is a major culprit.
Fairness and Reciprocity
One possible objection to providing a universal “basic needs guarantee” is that it might lead to rampant “free-loading” and produce an indolent class of economic parasites, or “defectors” (to borrow a term from game theory), who would exploit the rest of us. This would obviously be unfair. Indeed, the collective survival enterprise has always been based on mutualism and reciprocity, with altruism being limited, typically, to special circumstances under a distinct moral claim — what I refer to (using an insurance industry term) as “no-fault needs.” So, to close the loop and balance the scales, a third principle must be added to the biosocial contract, one that puts it squarely at odds with some of the utopian socialists, and perhaps even with some modern social democrats as well. There must also be reciprocity in the relation ship.
When a disciple of Confucius asked him for a single word that would describe the basic principle of social life, he is reputed to have answered “reciprocity.” Reciprocity is most often associated with fair exchanges of goods and services, or “tit-for-tat,” but it also means that you must pay back a kindness or a favor. Otherwise, you are tacitly exploiting others and benefiting unfairly from their labors. Not only is the “norm of reciprocity,” in sociologist Alvin Gouldner’s term, a universal ethical principle in human societies but it can be observed in some primate societies as well. Humans keep score of the favors they do for one another, although the material value is often less important than the role of these exchanges in building and maintaining personal friendships and mutual trust, and in signaling a willingness to cooperate and assist one another. Sometimes even a simple expression of genuine appreciation can be reciprocity enough. Reciprocity is, in fact, a form of psychological glue that bonds together our friendships, our families and our communities. (The extensive research in recent years on the biological roots of reciprocity is discussed in The Fair Society, Chapter Four.)
In the Fair Society paradigm, reciprocity also plays a more formal role. The very idea of a social contract implies that there must be obligations, or costs as well as benefits, with all parties being contributors. Without reciprocity, the first two fairness principles would seem like nothing more than a one-way scheme for redistributing wealth. A clear implication of the reciprocity principle is that we are also obliged to contribute a fair share to the collective survival enterprise in return for the benefits we receive. This directive applies to the rich and the poor alike – to both wealthy matrons and welfare mothers. We have a duty to reciprocate for the benefits that our society provides. Otherwise, we are in effect free-riders on the efforts of others; we turn them into involuntary altruists.
However, the reciprocity principle also begs the question. What is a “fair share”? And how can the obvious differences in our ability to contribute be weighed and factored in? As is the case with merit, there are no easy formulas, but societies have worked out many different ways of making such collective decisions – from market transactions to legislative mandates, tax codes, cultural norms, social pressures, and more. The norm of reciprocity is also typically backed by sanctions of various kinds, ranging from ostracism to fines and more or less severe forms of punishment. Indeed, policing the biosocial contract is at once a matter of necessity and a matter of fairness, and it is also consistent with the emerging scientific understanding of human nature, most notably in the research on “strong reciprocity theory.” (15) (A detailed discussion about how to strengthen the reciprocity principle in our society – ranging from a full employment program to provide useful work for everyone to a top-to-bottom reform of our tax code and a national service program — can be found in Chapter Eight of The Fair Society.)
A society that cannot achieve a proper balance between the three indispensable fairness principles is a society in peril. Indeed, extremes of wealth and poverty have been the seed-beds of revolution historically. In the first (known) empirical study in political science more than 2,000 years ago, Aristotle and his students compared some 158 ancient societies and found that the greatest cause of civil unrest and violent revolts in the ancient world was due to extreme economic inequality. Needless to say, these findings have been confirmed many times since. Aristotle warned us that no political order is immutable, and modern game theorists, whose research has done so much to illuminate the foundations of social cooperation in evolution, have shown unequivocally that mutual benefits are an essential requisite for a viable social contract. Defection is the likely response to an exploitative, asymmetrical relationship.(16)
To be sure, coercive force is often used to prevent reforms and to sustain a dysfunctional political order in human societies, but the costs and risks are always high, and the long-term results are problematical, to say the least. The recent violent revolutions in the Middle East have once again demonstrated that a society may ultimately awaken from its “social amnesia,” as sociologist Barrington Moore called it, forcing convulsive changes that are uncertain and often destructive.(17)
As Plato sadly noted in the Republic, “Any State, however small, is in fact divided into two — one the State of the poor, the other that of the rich – and these are [always] at war with one another.” (18) We now know that this outcome is not inevitable. There have been enough exceptions to Plato’s pessimistic prediction over the centuries to suggest that there is a viable alternative. The vision of a fair society is an attainable objective. Some contemporary societies (like Norway) provide inspiring examples. Whether or not these are exceptions to the rule, or are sustainable for the long run, remains to be seen. The alternative, in any case, is a much darker future for humankind. If so, the tragedy will lie in the fact that it was avoidable. Ultimately, it is a matter of choice.
1. Christopher Boehm, (1999). Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
2. Donald Brown, (1991). Human Universals. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
3. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, (1754/2004). Discourse on Inequality. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing. Also, (1762/1984). Of the Social Contract. Trans. Charles M. Sherover. New York: Harper & Row.
4. Rousseau, (1754/2004), op. cit.
5. This is the opening line of Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, ibid..
6. Rousseau (1762/1984), op. cit., I, ix, I, i.
7. John L. Locke, (1690/1970). Two Treatises of Government. (Ed., P. Laslett. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University PressOften overlooked or downplayed, however, is Locke’s qualifier that our rights are not absolute. They must not interfere with the rights of others, he asserted. Furthermore, Locke insisted, governments exist to protect these rights.
8. See Robert L. Hoffman, (1972). Revolutionary Justice: The Social and Political Theory of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press; also http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Property_is_theft!
9. Karl Marx was not actually the originator of the idea, though he fleshed it out, built a case for it and promoted it in various writings, especially in his manuscript Theories of Surplus Value and in his great work Capital. (Provo, Utah: Regal Publications, 1867/1993). In addition to the counter-arguments that I provide below, economist Lester Thurow, in The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, provides five specific justifications for profits: (1) capitalists should be rewarded for delaying personal gratification to invest in an enterprise, (2) they should also be rewarded for the risks that they take, (3) there should be rewards for enterprise, entrepreneurial energy and organizing abilities, (4) some profits may be due to economic “rents”, when a firm holding a monopoly can charge more than a competitive price and obtain an extra surplus, and (5) some profits may be due to market “imperfections” – when, for example, speculation drives up the price of crude oil and oil companies reap extra profits. http://www.econlib.org/library/CEE.html
10. The concept of basic needs is hardly new, needless to say. Its roots go back at least to Plato in the Republic, (Trans B. Jowett, Cleveland, OH: World Publishing Co., 380B.C./1946.), who identified our basic needs as the basis for any organized society. As Plato observed, “A city — or a state — is a response to human needs. No human being is self-sufficient, and all of us have many wants…Since each person has many wants, many partners and purveyors will be required to furnish them….Owing to this interchange of services, a multitude of persons will gather and dwell together in what we have come to call the city or the state….” (Book II, 369; also 370b,c, 371c).
11. Locke, op. cit.
12. Plato, op. cit. Bk. I, 335.
13. Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, (350 B.C./1985).Trans. Terence Irwin, Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Co, Book V, 5. Aristotle’s term “distributive equity” can be found at ibid., Book V, 10.
14. The term “equity theory” actually refers to two distinct, though parallel research traditions and methodologies. The older tradition is rooted in social psychology and management. It was originally focused on workplace and management issues, though its horizon has expanded over time. The newer tradition is associated with game theory in economics and political science. It is more narrowly focused on distributive justice and how to derive equitable solutions to well-defined real-world problems, like how to divide a metaphorical birthday cake. Both traditions have developed a number of useful guidelines, principles and model solutions for some of the classic fairness issues. On the older tradition in equity theory, see especially Morton Deutsch, (1985). Distributive Justice. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Also David Miller, (1999). Principles of Social Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. For the work in game theory and the newer methodologies, see especially Peyton H. Young, (1994). Equity: In Theory and Practice. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
15. Perhaps most notable is a construct called “strong reciprocity theory.” A clutch of theorists, including Herbert Gintis, Samuel Bowles, Ernst Fehr, Simon Gächter, Joseph Henrich, Robert Boyd, Peter Richerson, Carl Sigmund and others have amassed a large body of evidence – using the paradigm known as the “ultimatum game” — showing that even altruistic behaviors can be elicited in cooperative situations if there is a combination of strict reciprocity and punishments for defectors. These theorists conclude that strong reciprocity is one of the core aspects of human morality and that it has played a vital role in our evolution as a species (see The Fair Society, Chapter Four). Equally compelling is the evidence, reported by anthropologist Donald Brown in his landmark 1999 study, that altruism, reciprocity, and a concern for fairness are cultural universals. There is also the extensive research by evolutionary psychologists Leda Cosmedes and John Tooby and a number of their colleagues on what they term “social exchange” (reciprocity). Cosmedes and Tooby have concluded that humans possess a discreet “mental module” — a dedicated neurocognitive system – for reciprocity behaviors. (See especially their co-authored overview chapter in David M. Buss, ed., The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2005), pp. 584-626. Finally, it has been shown that even some nonhuman primates display in a rudimentary form some of the traits associated with fairness behaviors in humans. For instance, primatologist Frans de Waal, in a classic laboratory experiment, clearly demonstrated the existence of reciprocity behaviors in capuchin monkeys (Described in Jessica Flack and Frans B.M. de Waal, “Any Animal Whatever: Darwinian Building Blocks of Morality in Monkeys and Apes,” Journal of Consciousness Studies Vol. 7,1-2, pp. 1-29, 2005).
16. Indeed, the American Declaration of Independence contains an enduring justification for breaking the “political bands” of the existing order. Governments “are instituted among men” to secure our “inalienable rights,” and derive their “just powers” from “the consent of the governed.” Whenever any form of government “becomes destructive of those ends,” the people have the right “to alter or abolish it.”
17.Barrington Moore, Jr., (1978). Injustice: The Social Basis of Obedience and Revolt. New York: M. E. Sharpe.
18. Plato, op. cit., Bk. IV, 423.