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Mutual insurance as an elusive concept in traditional rural communities

Jean-Philippe Platteau ()

Journal of Development Studies, 1997, vol. 33, issue 6, 764-796

Abstract: During the last two decades, economists have paid increasing attention to the role of informal risk-sharing arrangements as a privileged way through which traditional rural communities can achieve a significant degree of protection against income fluctuations and other hazards beyond their control. This article however argues that when they enter into such arrangements members of these communities are guided by a principle of balanced reciprocity (they expect a return from any contribution or payment they make) rather than by a true logic of mutual insurance. More precisely, they do not conceive of insurance as a game where there are winners and losers and where income is redistributed between lucky and unlucky individuals. None the less, traditional agrarian societies have proven able to develop a restricted range of sustainable forms of mutual insurance that avoid the aforementioned problem.

Date: 1997
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