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Friedman, Harsanyi, Rawls, Boulding - Or Somebody Else? An Experimental Investigation of Distributive Justice


  • Stefan Traub
  • Christian Seidl
  • Ulrich Schmidt
  • M. Vittoria Levati


This paper investigates distributive justice using a fourfold experimental design: The ignorance and the risk scenarios are combined with the self-concern and the umpire modes. We study behavioral switches between self-concern and umpire mode and investigate the goodness of ten standards of behavior. In the ignorance scenario, subjects became, on average, less inequality-averse as umpires. A within-subjects analysis shows that about one half became less inequality-averse, one quarter became more inequality-averse and one quarter remained unchanged as umpires. In the risk scenario, subjects become on average more inequality-averse in their umpire roles. A within-subjects analysis shows that about half became more inequality-averse, one quarter became less inequality-averse, and one quarter remained unchanged as umpires. As to the standards of behavior, several prominent ones (leximin, leximax, Gini, Cobb-Douglas) were not supported, while expected utility, Boulding's hypothesis, the entropy social welfare function, and randomization preference enjoyed impressive acceptance. For the risk scenario, the tax standard of behavior joins the favorite standards of behavior.

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  • Stefan Traub & Christian Seidl & Ulrich Schmidt & M. Vittoria Levati, "undated". "Friedman, Harsanyi, Rawls, Boulding - Or Somebody Else? An Experimental Investigation of Distributive Justice," Papers on Strategic Interaction 2003-19, Max Planck Institute of Economics, Strategic Interaction Group.
  • Handle: RePEc:esi:discus:2003-19

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    10. Robert H. Strotz, 1961. "How Income Ought To Be Distributed: Paradox Regained," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 69, pages 271-271.
    11. 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.
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    Cited by:

    1. Yoram Amiel & Frank Cowell & Wulf Gaertner, 2009. "To be or not to be involved: a questionnaire-experimental view on Harsanyi’s utilitarian ethics," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 32(2), pages 299-316, February.
    2. İbrahim Erdem SEÇİLMİŞ, 2014. "Seniority: A Blessing or A Curse? The Effect of Economics Training on the Perception of Distributive Justice," Sosyoekonomi Journal, Sosyoekonomi Society, issue 22(22).
    3. Tim Krieger & Stefan Traub, 2008. "Back to Bismarck? Shifting Preferences for Intragenerational Redistribution in OECD Pension Systems," Working Papers CIE 13, Paderborn University, CIE Center for International Economics.
    4. Yoram Amiel & Michele Bernasconi & Frank Cowell & Valentino Dardanoni, 2015. "Do we value mobility?," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 44(2), pages 231-255, February.
    5. Clément, Valérie & Rey-Valette, Hélène & Rulleau, Bénédicte, 2015. "Perceptions on equity and responsibility in coastal zone policies," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 119(C), pages 284-291.
    6. Liang, Che-Yuan, 2013. "Optimal Inequality behind the Veil of Ignorance," Working Paper Series, Center for Fiscal Studies 2013:4, Uppsala University, Department of Economics.
    7. Daniel M�ller & Sander Renes, 2017. "Fairness views and political preferences - Evidence from a large online experiment," Working Papers 2017-10, Faculty of Economics and Statistics, University of Innsbruck.
    8. Björn Kauder & Niklas Potrafke, 2015. "Globalization and social justice in OECD countries," Review of World Economics (Weltwirtschaftliches Archiv), Springer;Institut für Weltwirtschaft (Kiel Institute for the World Economy), vol. 151(2), pages 353-376, May.
    9. James Konow, 2009. "Is fairness in the eye of the beholder? An impartial spectator analysis of justice," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 33(1), pages 101-127, June.
    10. repec:kap:theord:v:83:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s11238-017-9599-7 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Tim Krieger & Stefan Traub, 2009. "Wie hat sich die intragenerationale Umverteilung in der staatlichen Säule des Rentensystems verändert? Ein internationaler Vergleich auf Basis von LIS-Daten," Working Papers CIE 24, Paderborn University, CIE Center for International Economics.
    12. Hong, Hao & Ding, Jianfeng & Yao, Yang, 2015. "Individual social welfare preferences: An experimental study," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 57(C), pages 89-97.
    13. repec:bla:jecrev:v:68:y:2017:i:3:p:394-408 is not listed on IDEAS
    14. Paetzel, Fabian & Sausgruber, Rupert, 2017. "Entitlements and Loyalty in Groups: An Experimental Study," Annual Conference 2017 (Vienna): Alternative Structures for Money and Banking 168224, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    15. Seidl, Christian & Camacho Cuena, Eva & Morone, Andrea, 2003. "Income Distributions versus Lotteries Happiness, Response-Mode Effects, and Preference," Economics Working Papers 2003-01, Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel, Department of Economics.
    16. Steven R. Beckman & Gregory DeAngelo & W. James Smith & Ning Wang, 2016. "Is social choice gender-neutral? Reference dependence and sexual selection in decisions toward risk and inequality," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 52(3), pages 191-211, June.

    More about this item


    distributive justice; income distributions; veil of ignorance;

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • 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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