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A Meritocratic Origin of Egalitarian Behavior

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  • Cappelen, Alexander W.

    (Dept. of Economics, Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration)

  • Mollerstrom, Johanna
  • Reme, Bjørn-Atle
  • Tungodden, Bertil

    (Dept. of Economics, Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration)

Abstract

The meritocratic fairness ideal implies that inequalities in earnings are regarded as fair only when they reflect differences in performance. Consequently, implementation of the meritocratic fairness ideal requires complete information about individual performances, but in practice, such information is often not available. We study redistributive behavior in the common, but previously understudied, situation where there is uncertainty about whether inequality is reflecting performance or luck. We show theoretically that meritocrats in such situations can become very egalitarian in their behavior, and that the degree to which this happens depends on how they trade off the probability of making mistakes and the size of mistakes that they risk making when redistributing under uncertainty. Our laboratory experiments show, in line with our model, that uncertainty about the source of inequality provides a strong egalitarian pull on the behavior of meritocrats. In addition, the external validity of our framework, and the results from the laboratory, are supported in two general population surveys conducted in the United States and Norway.

Suggested Citation

  • Cappelen, Alexander W. & Mollerstrom, Johanna & Reme, Bjørn-Atle & Tungodden, Bertil, 2019. "A Meritocratic Origin of Egalitarian Behavior," Discussion Paper Series in Economics 9/2019, Norwegian School of Economics, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:hhs:nhheco:2019_009
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    2. Sandro Ambuehl & Sebastian Blesse & Philipp Doerrenberg & Christoph Feldhaus & Axel Ockenfels, 2023. "Politicians’ Social Welfare Criteria – An Experiment with German Legislators," ifo Working Paper Series 391, ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich.
    3. Vanessa Valero, 2022. "Redistribution and beliefs about the source of income inequality," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 25(3), pages 876-901, June.
    4. Marcel Preuss & Germán Reyes & Jason Somerville & Joy Wu, 2023. "Inequality of Opportunity and Income Redistribution," CEDLAS, Working Papers 0309, CEDLAS, Universidad Nacional de La Plata.
    5. Ghislain Herman Demeze-Jouatsa & Roland Pongou & Jean-Baptiste Tondji, 2024. "Justice, inclusion, and incentives," Journal of Theoretical Politics, , vol. 36(2), pages 101-131, April.
    6. John Bone & Paolo Crosetto & John Hey & Carmen Pasca, 2021. "The Acceptability of Accountability," Constitutional Political Economy, Springer, vol. 32(4), pages 476-501, December.
    7. Kusterer, David & Sliwka, Dirk, 2022. "Social Preferences and Rating Biases in Subjective Performance Evaluations," IZA Discussion Papers 15496, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    8. Ernst Fehr & Gary Charness, 2023. "Social preferences: fundamental characteristics and economic consequences," ECON - Working Papers 432, Department of Economics - University of Zurich, revised Mar 2024.
    9. Belguise, Margot & Huang, Yuchen & Mo, Zhexun, 2023. "Non-Meritocrats or Conformist Meritocrats? A Redistribution Experiment in China and France," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 1476, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
    10. Piasenti, Stefano & Valente, Marica & Van Veldhuizen, Roel & Pfeifer, Gregor, 2023. "Does Unfairness Hurt Women? The Effects of Losing Unfair Competitions," Working Papers 2023:7, Lund University, Department of Economics.
    11. Gärtner, Manja & Mollerstrom, Johanna & Seim, David, 2023. "Intergenerational transmission of luck versus effort beliefs," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 232(C).
    12. Marcel Preuss & Germán Reyes & Jason Somerville & Joy Wu, 2024. "Inequality of Opportunity and Income Redistribution," CRC TR 224 Discussion Paper Series crctr224_2024_491, University of Bonn and University of Mannheim, Germany.
    13. Marcelo Bérgolo & Gabriel Burdín & Santiago Burone & Mauricio de Rosa & Matías Giaccobasso & Martín Leites, 2020. "Dissecting Inequality-Averse Preferences," Documentos de Trabajo (working papers) 20-19, Instituto de Economía - IECON.
    14. Preuss, Marcel & Reyes, Germán & Somerville, Jason & Wu, Joy, 2022. "Inequality of Opportunity and Income Redistribution," VfS Annual Conference 2022 (Basel): Big Data in Economics 264138, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    15. Marcel Preuss & Germán Reyes & Jason Somerville & Joy Wu, 2023. "Inequality of Opportunity and Income Redistribution," CESifo Working Paper Series 10383, CESifo.
    16. Michele Bernasconi & Enrico Longo & Valeria Maggian, 2023. "When merit breeds luck (or not): an experimental study on distributive justice," Working Papers 2023:02, Department of Economics, University of Venice "Ca' Foscari".
    17. Belguise, Margot & Huang, Yuchen & Mo, Zhexun, 2023. "Non-Meritocrats or Conformist Meritocrats? A Redistribution Experiment in China and France," CEPREMAP Working Papers (Docweb) 2308, CEPREMAP.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    inequality; fairness; redistribution; responsibility; performance; luck; experiment; survey.;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty
    • H23 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Externalities; Redistributive Effects; Environmental Taxes and Subsidies

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