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Justice and Fairness in the Dictator Game


  • Karl Schurter

    () (University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22904, USA)

  • Bart J. Wilson

    () (Economic Science Institute, Chapman University, One University Drive, Orange, CA 92866, USA)


This article uses a laboratory experiment to examine the question of whether justice and fairness are different motivational forces in the dictator game. ‘‘Justice’’ and ‘‘fairness’’ are often used interchangeably because their meanings and usages are so closely linked, despite their distinct connotations. Using four different treatments, our experimental design investigates the subtle differences between the two social concepts to explicate generosity in the dictator game. The results indicate that justice, not fairness, legitimizes property rights in the dictator game.

Suggested Citation

  • Karl Schurter & Bart J. Wilson, 2009. "Justice and Fairness in the Dictator Game," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 76(1), pages 130-145, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:sej:ancoec:v:76:1:y:2009:p:130-145

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Cremer, Helmuth & De Donder, Philippe & Maldonado, Dario & Pestieau, Pierre, 2007. "Voting over type and generosity of a pension system when some individuals are myopic," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(10), pages 2041-2061, November.
    2. Sanna Tenhunen & Matti Tuomala, 2010. "On Optimal Lifetime Redistribution Policy," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 12(1), pages 171-198, February.
    3. Cremer, Helmuth & Pestieau, Pierre & Rochet, Jean-Charles, 2001. "Direct versus Indirect Taxation: The Design of the Tax Structure Revisted," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 42(3), pages 781-799, August.
    4. Cremer, Helmuth & Pestieau, Pierre & Rochet, Jean-Charles, 2003. "Capital income taxation when inherited wealth is not observable," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 87(11), pages 2475-2490, October.
    5. Diamond, Peter & Koszegi, Botond, 2003. "Quasi-hyperbolic discounting and retirement," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 87(9-10), pages 1839-1872, September.
    6. Martin Feldstein, 1985. "The Optimal Level of Social Security Benefits," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 100(2), pages 303-320.
    7. Ayşe İmrohoroğlu & Selahattin İmrohoroğlu & Douglas H. Joines, 2003. "Time-Inconsistent Preferences and Social Security," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 118(2), pages 745-784.
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    Cited by:

    1. Bart J. Wilson, 2012. "Contra Private Fairness," American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 71(2), pages 407-435, April.
    2. Nejat Anbarci & Nick Feltovich, 2012. "How responsive are people to changes in their bargaining position? Earned bargaining power and the 50–50 norm," Economics Series 2012_2, Deakin University, Faculty of Business and Law, School of Accounting, Economics and Finance.
    3. Rigdon, Mary & Ishii, Keiko & Watabe, Motoki & Kitayama, Shinobu, 2009. "Minimal social cues in the dictator game," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 30(3), pages 358-367, June.
    4. Grimalday, Gianluca & Karz, Anirban & Proto, Eugenio, 2012. "Everyone Wants a Chance: Initial Positions and Fairness in Ultimatum Games," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 93, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
    5. Walton Padelford & Darin White, 2010. "The Influence of Historical Socialism and Communism on the Shaping of a Society’s Economic Ethos: An Exploratory Study of Central and Eastern Europe," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 97(1), pages 109-117, November.
    6. Wilson, Bart J., 2008. "Language games of reciprocity," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 68(2), pages 365-377, November.
    7. Gianluca Grimalda & Anirban Kar & Eugenio Proto, 2016. "Procedural fairness in lotteries assigning initial roles in a dynamic setting," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 19(4), pages 819-841, December.
    8. Joy A. Buchanan & Matthew K. McMahon & Matthew Simpson & Bart J. Wilson, 2016. "Smile, Dictator, You’re on Camera," Working Papers 1061, George Mason University, Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science.
    9. Randall G. Holcombe, 2015. "Unanimous consent and constitutional economics," Chapters,in: Handbook of Social Choice and Voting, chapter 3, pages 35-53 Edward Elgar Publishing.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C70 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - General
    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement


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