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Distributive Justice with Production and the Social Contract. An Experimental study


  • Giacomo Degli Antoni

    (University of Parma, Department of Law)

  • Marco Faillo

    (University of Trento)

  • Lorenzo Sacconi

    (University of Trento)

  • Pedro Francés-Gomez

    (University of Granada)


Drawing on the theoretical and experimental literature on distributive justice, we put some assumptions of the contractarian argument to an empirical test by means of an experiment which investigates the influence that explicit agreement under the veil of ignorance may have on individuals' conception of justice and its implementation in a context of the production and distribution of a common output. One crucial characteristic of our experiment is that subjects are assigned unequal endowments for which they are not responsible; the assignment is random. At the same time, their work naturally generates unequal levels of earnings. Do the subjects involved in this interaction distinguish between the two types of inequality? Do they try to reduce the arbitrary one, while accepting the one generated through effort? Do they elaborate other distributive criteria? Does their choice ex-ante, when they are behind the veil, differ from their choice ex-post once the veil has been lifted and they know the outcome of the production phase? The main result is that the agreement under a veil of ignorance induces subjects to accept a liberal egalitarian division rule not only in the ex-ante agreement, but also in the actual implementation of the pie division, even if this contradicts their self-interest and some common economic assumptions about reciprocal expectations of rationality. In addition, our results show that deliberating through open discussion increases the level of ex-post compliance.

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  • Giacomo Degli Antoni & Marco Faillo & Lorenzo Sacconi & Pedro Francés-Gomez, 2016. "Distributive Justice with Production and the Social Contract. An Experimental study," Econometica Working Papers wp60, Econometica.
  • Handle: RePEc:ent:wpaper:wp60

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item


    Trust; Distributive justice; social contract; fairness; dictator game; contractarian business ethics;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • C72 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Noncooperative Games
    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • D02 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Institutions: Design, Formation, Operations, and Impact
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement

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