Experiments Behind the Veil: A Hypothetical Societies Approach to the Study of Social Justice
53 Pages Posted: 11 Apr 2002
Date Written: April 2002
In two experiments, participants judged the fairness of different distributions of wealth in hypothetical societies. In the first study, the level of meritocracy in the hypothetical societies and the frame of reference from which participants' judged alternative distributions of wealth interacted to influence fairness judgments. As meritocracy increased, all participants became more tolerant of economic inequality, particularly when participants judged fairness from a redistribution frame of reference that made salient transfers among classes. Liberal participants, however, placed a greater emphasis on equality than conservative participants across all conditions. In the second study, reactions to income transfers depended on the efficiency of the transfers and the identity of the groups receiving the benefits, but conservatives placed a greater emphasis in their fairness judgments on tying benefits to workfare requirements while liberals did not distinguish between unconditional welfare transfers and workfare transfers. The implications of these results and this "hypothetical societies" paradigm for the empirical study of social justice are discussed.
Keywords: Social Justice, Distributive Justice, Impartial Reasoning Devices, Meritocracy, Efficiency, Workfare
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