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

James Andreoni, Deniz Aydin, Blake Barton, Jeffrey Naecker

Journal of Political Economy 128(5), 2020, 1673-1711

In settings with uncertainty, tension exists between ex ante and ex post notions of fairness. Subjects in an experiment most commonly 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 reversals as time inconsistent. Another abandons consequentialism in favor of deontological (rule-based) ethics and thereby avoids the implication that revisions imply inconsistency. We test these explanations by examining contingent planning and the demand for commitment. Our findings suggest that the most common attitude toward fairness involves a time-consistent preference for applying a naive deontological heuristic.

Research Fields : 
Behavioral Economics
Experimental Economics
Political Economy
Positive Welfare Economics
Psychology of Choice
Social Preferences