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The effect of an experimental veil of ignorance on intergenerational resource sharing: empirical evidence from a sequential multi-person dictator game

Stephan Wolf and Cameron Dron

Ecological Economics, 2020, vol. 175, issue C

Abstract: Based on Rawls's Veil, one may question the legitimacy of many decisions made by the currently living where burdens are shifted onto future generations. For Rawls, this is normatively unacceptable: knowing their place in the generational sequence, the current generation fails to decide from an impartial perspective. Starting from this, we conducted a laboratory experiment on intergenerational resource sharing with 310 student participants. One part had to distribute a given endowment over 5 generations in the form of a sequential dictator game. In a second treatment, people could ex-ante agree on a joint distribution; there was no formal enforcement mechanism, and people knew their position in the sequence. The third treatment also included a bargaining stage, but people were ignorant about their later position. As expected, bargaining as such created more equality, but to our surprise, the third treatment produced less egalitarian outcomes than the second one. This is bad news for future generations: If those adversely affected are not identifiable as existing humans, the currently living are less ready to constrain themselves. Generally, our results are more compatible with Adam Smith's empathetic Impartial Spectator, rather than the hypothetical, veiled decision maker à la Rawls.

Keywords: Intergenerational Justice; Veil of Ignorance; Laboratory Experiment; Social Contract (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2020
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Persistent link: https://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:eee:ecolec:v:175:y:2020:i:c:s0921800919305087

DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2020.106662

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