From friendly turns towards
trade – on the interplay between
cooperation and markets
Research Station Agroscope Reckenholz Ta
nikon, Ettenhausem, Switzerland
Purpose – Many transactions are partly carried out within social networks and without payment,
partly commercially on the market. The paper aims to explore the interdependencies between
shrinking cooperation in society and a growing service sector.
Design/methodology/approach – The author tries to categorize cooperation and to set it into
relation to services carried out against payment. Examples are found where a clear switch from
cooperation to the service sector have been taken place.
Findings – The paper diagnoses a broad societal switch from socially driven cooperation to the
market. Tour reps at holiday clubs, psychologists and nurses for the elderly are all rising professions
and are used as cases in point. Utility theory sees such switches as a rise in GDP and therefore as
something positive. From a happiness research perspective, however, switching from cooperation to
markets will probably lead to declining social capital.
Research limitations/implications – The overall impact to societal utility remains unclear.
Originality/value – This is an example for a phenomenon where happiness research leads to very
different results from welfare economics.
Keywords Economic cooperation, Social interaction, Social economics
Paper type Research paper
Imagine your best friend is moving house and asks you to give him a hand. If you help
him, would you charge him for that? If you would, this transaction would be very
similar to the market transactions by transport companies which earn money by
relocating furniture. In the more likely case that you would help your friend for free, the
transaction would not take place on the market, but would instead be an example of
So rarely have economists been concerned with this kind of cooperation that it may
be appropriate to ask whether it still belongs to the ﬁeld of economics. If, as Samuelson
and Nordhaus (2001) suggest, economics is about scarcity and efﬁciency, the answer is
certainly yes: helping hands for your friend’s relocation are as scarce a resource if he
has not to pay for them as if he has. You will be helping him not because you ﬁnd
carrying furniture fun, but out of sympathy or obligation, which is certainly a scarce
resource as well. And organizing the transport efﬁciently is equally important whether
or not you pay your helpers: I once heard a story about somebody who prepared for his
removal so badly that all his friends went away again after a few hours when nothing
had been moved yet.
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
JEL classiﬁcation – A13, A14, Z13
International Journal of Social
Vol. 35 No. 5, 2008
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited