When Fair Isn't Fair: Understanding Choice Reversals Involving Social Preferences

85 Pages Posted: 19 Nov 2018

See all articles by James Andreoni

James Andreoni

University of California, San Diego (UCSD)

Blake Barton

Stanford University - Department of Economics

B. Douglas Bernheim

Stanford University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Jeffrey Naecker

Wesleyan University - Department of Economics

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: November 2018

Abstract

In settings with uncertainty, tension exists between ex ante and ex post notions of fairness (e.g., equal opportunity versus equal outcomes). In a laboratory experiment, the most common behavioral pattern is for subjects to select the ex ante fair alternative ex ante, and switch to the ex post fair alternative ex post. One potential explanation embraces consequentialism and construes the reversals as manifestations of time inconsistency. Another abandons consequentialism in favor of deontological (rule-based) ethics, and thereby avoids the implication that revisions imply inconsistency. We test between these explanations by examining contingent planning and the demand for commitment. While the population appears to be heterogeneous, our findings suggest that the most common attitude toward fairness involves a time-consistent preference for applying naive deontological rules.

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Suggested Citation

Andreoni, James and Barton, Blake and Bernheim, B. Douglas and Naecker, Jeffrey, When Fair Isn't Fair: Understanding Choice Reversals Involving Social Preferences (November 2018). NBER Working Paper No. w25257. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3286876

James Andreoni (Contact Author)

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) ( email )

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HOME PAGE: http://econ.ucsd.edu/~jandreon/

Blake Barton

Stanford University - Department of Economics ( email )

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B. Douglas Bernheim

Stanford University - Department of Economics ( email )

Landau Economics Building
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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Jeffrey Naecker

Wesleyan University - Department of Economics ( email )

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Middletown, CT 06459-0007
United States

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