“A Solidarity-Type World”: Need-Based Helping among Ranchers in the Southwestern United States

Human Nature 32 (2):482-508 (2021)
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To better understand risk management and mutual aid among American ranchers, we interviewed and mailed a survey to ranchers in Hidalgo County, New Mexico, and Cochise County, Arizona, focusing on two questions: When do ranchers expect repayment for the help they provide others? What determines ranchers’ degrees of involvement in networks of mutual aid, which they refer to as “neighboring”? When needs arise due to unpredictable events, such as injuries, most ranchers reported not expecting to be paid back for the help they provide. When help is provided for something that follows a known schedule or that can be scheduled, such as branding, most ranchers did expect something in return for the help they provide. This pattern makes sense in light of computational modeling that shows that transfers to those in need without expectations of repayment pool risk more effectively than transfers that create debt. Ranchers reported helping other ranchers more often when they belonged to more religious and civic organizations, when they owned larger ranches, when they relied less on ranch vs. other income, and when they had more relatives in the area. Operators of midsize ranches reported helping other ranchers more frequently than did those on smaller and larger ranches. None of our independent variables predicted how many times ranchers reported receiving help from other ranchers. Although ranch culture in the American West is often characterized by an ethic of individualism and independence, our study suggests that this ethic stands alongside an ethic of mutual aid during times of need.



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The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism.Robert L. Trivers - 1971 - Quarterly Review of Biology 46 (1):35-57.

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