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Is Fairness in the Eye of the Beholder? An Impartial Spectator Analysis of Justice

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  • Konow, James

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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Paper provided by University Library of Munich, Germany in its series MPRA Paper with number 2730.

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Date of creation: Dec 2006
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Publication status: Published in Social Choice and Welfare 1.33(2009): pp. 101-127
Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:2730

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Keywords: Justice; fairness; impartial spectator;

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  1. Kurt Devooght & Erik Schokkaert, 1999. "Responsibility-Sensitive Fair Compensation in Different Cultures," STICERD - Distributional Analysis Research Programme Papers 46, Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines, LSE.
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  6. Alexander W. Cappelen & Astri D. Hole & Erik Ø. Sørensen & Bertil Tungodden, 2005. "The Pluralism of Fairness Ideals: An Experimental Approach," CESifo Working Paper Series 1611, CESifo Group Munich.
  7. 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.
  8. Corneo, Giacomo & Fong, Christina M., 2007. "What´s the monetary value of distributive justice," Discussion Papers 2007/8, Free University Berlin, School of Business & Economics.
  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. Tore Ellingsen & Magnus Johannesson, 2004. "Promises, Threats and Fairness," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 114(495), pages 397-420, 04.
  11. 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.
  12. Schokkaert, Erik & Capeau, Bart, 1991. "Interindividual Differences in Opinions about Distributive Justice," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 44(3), pages 325-45.
  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. 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.
  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. Konow, James, 2008. "The Moral High Ground: An Experimental Study of Spectator Impartiality," MPRA Paper 18558, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  17. Kritikos, Alexander & Bolle, Friedel, 2001. "Distributional concerns: equity- or efficiency-oriented?," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 73(3), pages 333-338, December.
  18. Croson, Rachel & Konow, James, 2007. "Double Standards: Social Preferences and Moral Biases," MPRA Paper 2729, University Library of Munich, Germany.
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