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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. Konow, James, 2008. "The Moral High Ground: An Experimental Study of Spectator Impartiality," MPRA Paper 18558, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  2. Charness, Gary B & Rabin, Matthew, 2001. "Understanding Social Preferences With Simple Tests," University of California at Santa Barbara, Economics Working Paper Series qt0dc3k4m5, Department of Economics, UC Santa Barbara.
  3. Schokkaert, Erik & Capeau, Bart, 1991. "Interindividual Differences in Opinions about Distributive Justice," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 44(3), pages 325-45.
  4. Alexander W. Cappelen & Astri Drange Hole & Erik Ø Sørensen & Bertil Tungodden, 2007. "The Pluralism of Fairness Ideals: An Experimental Approach," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(3), pages 818-827, June.
  5. Giacomo Corneo & Christina M. Fong, 2006. "What’s the Monetary Value of Distributive Justice?," CESifo Working Paper Series 1706, CESifo Group Munich.
  6. Tore Ellingsen & Magnus Johannesson, 2004. "Promises, Threats and Fairness," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 114(495), pages 397-420, 04.
  7. 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.
  8. Vivi Alatas & Lisa Cameron & Ananish Chaudhuri & Nisvan Erkal & Lata Gangadharan, 2006. "Subject Pool Effects in a Corruption Experiment: A Comparison of Indonesian Public Servants and Indonesian Students," Department of Economics - Working Papers Series 975, The University of Melbourne.
  9. Harsanyi, John C, 1978. "Bayesian Decision Theory and Utilitarian Ethics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 68(2), pages 223-28, May.
  10. Kritikos, Alexander & Bolle, Friedel, 2001. "Distributional concerns: equity- or efficiency-oriented?," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 73(3), pages 333-338, December.
  11. Croson, Rachel & Konow, James, 2007. "Double Standards: Social Preferences and Moral Biases," MPRA Paper 2729, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. Yoram Amiel & Frank A Cowell & Wulf Gaertner, 2006. "To Be or not To Be Involved:A Questionnaire-Experimental View on Harsanyi’sUtilitarian Ethics," STICERD - Distributional Analysis Research Programme Papers 85, Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines, LSE.
  16. Stefan Traub & Christian Seidl & Ulrich Schmidt & Maria Levati, 2005. "Friedman, Harsanyi, Rawls, Boulding – or somebody else? An experimental investigation of distributive justice," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer, vol. 24(2), pages 283-309, 04.
  17. Kahneman, Daniel & Knetsch, Jack L & Thaler, Richard, 1986. "Fairness as a Constraint on Profit Seeking: Entitlements in the Market," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(4), pages 728-41, September.
  18. 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.
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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Stéphane Robin & Agnieszka Rusinowska & Marie Claire Villeval, 2014. "Ingratiation: Experimental Evidence," Université Paris1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (Post-Print and Working Papers) halshs-00911556, HAL.
  2. Benoît Tarroux, 2012. "Appraising two-Dimensional Inequality: A Questionnaire-Experimental Approach," Economics Working Paper Archive (University of Rennes 1 & University of Caen) 201216, Center for Research in Economics and Management (CREM), University of Rennes 1, University of Caen and CNRS.
  3. Johansson-Stenman, Olof, 2012. "Are most people consequentialists?," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 115(2), pages 225-228.
  4. Jeremiah Hurley & Neil Buckley & Katherine Cuff & Mita Giacomini & David Cameron, 2011. "Judgments regarding the fair division of goods: the impact of verbal versus quantitative descriptions of alternative divisions," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer, vol. 37(2), pages 341-372, July.
  5. Louis Putterman & Ruben Durante, 2009. "Preferences for Redistribution and Perception of Fairness: An Experimental Study," Sciences Po publications info:hdl:2441/eu4vqp9ompq, Sciences Po.
  6. Alexander W. Cappelen & James Konow & Erik ?. S?rensen & Bertil Tungodden, 2013. "Just Luck: An Experimental Study of Risk-Taking and Fairness," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(4), pages 1398-1413, June.
  7. Robin P. Cubitt & Michalis Drouvelis & Simon Gaechter & Ruslan Kabalin, 2010. "Moral Judgments in Social Dilemmas: How Bad is Free Riding?," CESifo Working Paper Series 3230, CESifo Group Munich.
  8. Konow, James, 2008. "The Moral High Ground: An Experimental Study of Spectator Impartiality," MPRA Paper 18558, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  9. Pedro FrancŽs-G—mez & Lorenzo Sacconi & Marco Faillo, 2012. "Behavioral Business Ethics as a Method for Normative Business Ethics," Econometica Working Papers wp42, Econometica.
  10. Konow, James, 2009. "Adam Smith and Moral Knowledge," MPRA Paper 18557, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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