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

James Andreoni (), Deniz Aydin, Blake Barton, B. Douglas Bernheim () and Jeffrey Naecker

No 25257, NBER Working Papers from National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc

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.

JEL-codes: D03 D63 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2018-11
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-evo, nep-exp and nep-hpe
Note: PE
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Published as James Andreoni & Deniz Aydin & Blake Barton & B. Douglas Bernheim & Jeffrey Naecker, 2020. "When Fair Isn’t Fair: Understanding Choice Reversals Involving Social Preferences," Journal of Political Economy, vol 128(5), pages 1673-1711.

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