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Is fairness in the eye of the beholder? An impartial spectator analysis of justice

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  • James Konow

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Abstract

A popular sentiment is that fairness is inexorably subjective and incapable of being determined by objective standards. This study, on the other hand, seeks to establish evidence on unbiased justice and to propose and demonstrate a general approach for measuring impartial views empirically. Most normative justice theories associate impartiality with limited information and with consensus, i.e., a high level of agreement about what is right. In both the normative and positive literature, information is usually seen as the raw material for self-serving bias and disagreement. In contrast, this paper proposes a type of impartiality that is associated with a high level of information. The crucial distinction is the emphasis here on the views of impartial spectators, rather than implicated stakeholders. I describe the quasi-spectator method, i.e., an empirical means to approximate the views of impartial spectators that is based on a direct relationship between information and consensus, whereby consensus refers to the level of agreement among actual evaluators of real world situations. Results of surveys provide evidence on quasi-spectator views and support this approach as a means to elicit moral preferences. By establishing a relationship between consensus and impartiality, this paper seeks to help lay an empirical foundation for welfare analysis, social choice theory and practical policy applications.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Springer in its journal Social Choice and Welfare.

Volume (Year): 33 (2009)
Issue (Month): 1 (June)
Pages: 101-127

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Handle: RePEc:spr:sochwe:v:33:y:2009:i:1:p:101-127

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  1. Croson, Rachel & Konow, James, 2007. "Double Standards: Social Preferences and Moral Biases," MPRA Paper 2729, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  2. Erik Schokkaert & Kurt Devooght, 1999. "Responsibility-sensitive fair compensation in different cultures," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 6574, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
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  9. Corneo, Giacomo & Fong, Christina M., 2008. "What's the monetary value of distributive justice," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(1-2), pages 289-308, February.
  10. Gaertner, Wulf & Jungeilges, Jochen & Neck, Reinhard, 2001. "Cross-cultural equity evaluations: A questionnaire-experimental approach," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 45(4-6), pages 953-963, May.
  11. Yoram Amiel & Frank Cowell & Wulf Gaertner, 2009. "To be or not to be involved: a questionnaire-experimental view on Harsanyi’s utilitarian ethics," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer, vol. 32(2), pages 299-316, February.
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  13. Forsythe Robert & Horowitz Joel L. & Savin N. E. & Sefton Martin, 1994. "Fairness in Simple Bargaining Experiments," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 6(3), pages 347-369, May.
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  15. James Konow, 2003. "Which Is the Fairest One of All? A Positive Analysis of Justice Theories," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 41(4), pages 1188-1239, December.
  16. Kravitz, David A. & Gunto, Samuel, 1992. "Decisions and perceptions of recipients in ultimatum bargaining games," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 21(1), pages 65-84.
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