Pay It Forward and Generalized Reciprocity

A long time ago I wrote about generalized reciprocity and the Pay it Forward World. In that post I linked to my favorite generalized reciprocity TV spot The Pay It Forward spot by the Red Cross.

To review, simple (or direct) reciprocity is between two individuals and is generally captured by "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours." This mutual cooperation benefits both parties. But in larger, more anonymous societies we need more than simple reciprocity. We need generalized reciprocity: You help me and I'll help someone else. In popular culture, we know this as the "pay it forward" idea. That is, when we receive help, aid, or assistance from someone we are to "pay it forward" by helping someone else. The idea is that, in a larger anonymous society, we rarely get the chance to help the person who helped us. So, we pay it forward. And we hope that the person we helped also pays it forward. And so on. When generalized reciprocity becomes the behavioral norm in a society you have a pretty great world. A "pay it forward world."

Well, two other TV spots have emerged that capture the notion of generalized reciprocity. First, see the Liberty Mutual's Responsibility clip. Then see Coke's Grand Theft Auto.

Sure, these are commercials. But I like vivid illustrations of generalized reciprocity.

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