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Fair Market Ideology: Its Cognitive-Motivational Underpinnings


  • Jost, John T.

    (Stanford U and Harvard U)

  • Blount, Sally

    (New York U)

  • Pfeffer, Jeffrey

    (Stanford U)

  • Hunyady, Gyorgy

    (Eotvos Lorand U)


Public opinion research shows that most people espouse egalitarian ideals and acknowledge substantial income inequality in society, but they consistently perceive the economic system to be highly fair and legitimate. In an attempt to better understand this paradox by considering the cognitive and motivational bases of ideological support for the free market system, we draw on and integrate a number of social psychological theories suggesting that people want to believe that the systems and institutions that affect them are fair, legitimate, and justified. We have developed an instrument for measuring fair market ideology, and we have found in several samples that its endorsement is associated with self-deception, economic system justification, opposition to equality, power distance orientation, belief in a just world, political conservatism, right-wing authoritarianism, and scandal minimization. We also present evidence that people evince a system-justifying tendency to judge profitable companies to be more ethical than unprofitable companies. In addition, results from an experimental study we conducted in Hungary indicate that support for the free market system is strongest among people who score high in self-deception under conditions of system threat, suggesting the presence of a (nonrational) defensive motivation. Finally, we discuss several organizational and societal implications of the tendency to idealize market mechanisms and to view market-generated outcomes as inherently fair.

Suggested Citation

  • Jost, John T. & Blount, Sally & Pfeffer, Jeffrey & Hunyady, Gyorgy, 2003. "Fair Market Ideology: Its Cognitive-Motivational Underpinnings," Research Papers 1816, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecl:stabus:1816

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Blount, Sally, 1995. "When Social Outcomes Aren't Fair: The Effect of Causal Attributions on Preferences," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 63(2), pages 131-144, August.
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    4. Kay, Aaron C. & Jost, John T., 2003. "Complementary Justice: Effects of "Poor But Happy" and "Poor But Honest" Stereotype Exemplars on System Justification and Implicit Activation of the Justice Motive," Research Papers 1753r, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business.
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    7. Jost, John T. & Haines, Elizabeth L., 2000. "Placating the Powerless: Effects of Legitimate and Illegitimate Explanation on Affect, Memory and Stereotyping," Research Papers 1606, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business.
    8. Fong, Christina, 2001. "Social preferences, self-interest, and the demand for redistribution," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 82(2), pages 225-246, November.
    9. Rabin, Matthew, 1993. "Incorporating Fairness into Game Theory and Economics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(5), pages 1281-1302, December.
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    12. 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 728-741, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Sera Linardi & Nita Rudra, 2015. "Globalization and Redistribution Towards the Poor in Developing Countries: Experimental Evidence from India," Artefactual Field Experiments 00399, The Field Experiments Website.
    2. Joanna Sterling & John T. Jost & Gordon Pennycook, 2016. "Are neoliberals more susceptible to bullshit?," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 11(4), pages 352-360, July.
    3. Roland Bénabou & Jean Tirole, 2006. "Belief in a Just World and Redistributive Politics," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 121(2), pages 699-746.
    4. repec:kap:jbuset:v:147:y:2018:i:2:d:10.1007_s10551-015-2992-7 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Morioka, Rika, 2014. "Gender difference in the health risk perception of radiation from Fukushima in Japan: The role of hegemonic masculinity," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 107(C), pages 105-112.
    6. Filippo Rutto & Silvia Russo & Cristina Mosso, 2014. "Development and Validation of a Democratic System Justification Scale," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 118(2), pages 645-655, September.
    7. Mukesh Sud & Craig VanSandt, 2011. "Of Fair Markets and Distributive Justice," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 99(1), pages 131-142, February.
    8. Vainio, Annukka & Paloniemi, Riikka, 2014. "The complex role of attitudes toward science in pro-environmental consumption in the Nordic countries," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 108(C), pages 18-27.
    9. Tao, Hung-Lin, 2015. "Multiple earnings comparisons and subjective earnings fairness: A cross-country study," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 57(C), pages 45-54.
    10. George Watson & R. Edward Freeman & Bobby Parmar, 2008. "Connected Moral Agency in Organizational Ethics," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 81(2), pages 323-341, August.
    11. Di Tella, Rafael & Galiani, Sebastian & Schargrodsky, Ernesto, 2012. "Reality versus propaganda in the formation of beliefs about privatization," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(5), pages 553-567.
    12. Michał Krawczyk & Maciej Wilamowski, 2015. "Are we all overconfident in the long run? Evidence from one million marathon participants," Working Papers 2015-01, Faculty of Economic Sciences, University of Warsaw.
    13. Guido Palazzo & Franciska Krings & Ulrich Hoffrage, 2012. "Ethical Blindness," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 109(3), pages 323-338, September.

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