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The Moral High Ground: An Experimental Study of Spectator Impartiality

  • Konow, James

This paper proposes and tests an empirical model of impartiality, inspired by Adam Smith (1759), that is based on the moral judgments of informed third parties (or spectators). The model predicts that spectatorship produces properties widely considered desirable in both the normative and descriptive literature of philosophy and the social sciences, namely, unbiasedness and consensus. This informs a vignette experiment that elicits moral judgments about real world policy issues while varying the information conditions (relevant and irrelevant information) and roles (spectator and stakeholder) of respondents across treatments. The results indicate that spectator views are unbiased, and that relevant information reduces stakeholder bias to insignificance, whereas irrelevant information reduces bias but does not eliminate it. Relevant information promotes a kind of consensus among both spectators and stakeholders. I argue that this model can inform descriptive and prescriptive political analysis and that it complements empirical work on deliberation and public opinion.

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Paper provided by University Library of Munich, Germany in its series MPRA Paper with number 18558.

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Date of creation: Nov 2008
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Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:18558
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  1. Faravelli, Marco, 2007. "How context matters: A survey based experiment on distributive justice," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(7-8), pages 1399-1422, August.
  2. Linda Babcock & George Loewenstein, 1997. "Explaining Bargaining Impasse: The Role of Self-Serving Biases," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 11(1), pages 109-126, Winter.
  3. James Konow, 2003. "Which Is the Fairest One of All? A Positive Analysis of Justice Theories," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 41(4), pages 1188-1239, December.
  4. James Konow, 2009. "Is fairness in the eye of the beholder? An impartial spectator analysis of justice," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer, vol. 33(1), pages 101-127, June.
  5. James Konow, 2000. "Fair Shares: Accountability and Cognitive Dissonance in Allocation Decisions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(4), pages 1072-1091, September.
  6. 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, vol. 32(2), pages 299-316, February.
  7. 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 728-41, September.
  8. Nava Ashraf & Colin F. Camerer & George Loewenstein, 2005. "Adam Smith, Behavioral Economist," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 19(3), pages 131-145, Summer.
  9. Traub, Stefan & Seidl, Christian & Schmidt, Ulrich & Levati, Maria Vittoria, 2003. "Friedman, Harsanyi, Rawls, Boulding - or Somebody Else?," Economics Working Papers 2003,03, Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel, Department of Economics.
  10. Croson, Rachel & Konow, James, 2007. "Double Standards: Social Preferences and Moral Biases," MPRA Paper 2729, University Library of Munich, Germany.
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