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Jon Elster Fairness and Norms THE TERM “ FAIRNESS,” IN EVERYDAY LANGUAGE, SEEMS TO BE USED IN two main ways.* First, there is the idea of a fair division of something. A child might say, “It’s notfair that she shall get a bigger slice of the cake.” In this sense, the term might refer either to the outcome of a division or to the act of dividing itself. The act of proposing an unfair division may be seen as unfair. Consider the Ultimatum Game (UG) in which one person, the Proposer, offers a division of $10 between himselfand another person, the Responder. If the Responder accepts, the proposal is implemented. If she refuses, neither gets anything. Often, a proposal to divide the $10 into $8 for the Proposer and $2 for the Responder is rejected. In fact, however, act unfairness seems more basic than outcome unfairness. Ifthe Proposer is constrained to choose between ($8, $2) and ($2, $8), the former proposal is less likely to be rejected (Camerer, 2003: 81-82). We perceive an act to be unfair if we can impute it to an intention to treat the other person unfairly (Rabin, 1983), which is certainly the case if the Proposer chooses ($8, $2) over ($5, $5), but less obviously if he chooses ($8, $2) over ($2, $8). We may note, moreover, that the differ­ ence between responses in the constrained and unconstrained UG also allows us to exclude envy as the motivation in the latter case. Whereas perceptions of outcome unfairness may be hard to distinguish from envy, act unfairness is clearly different. A fair division may, but need not be, an equal division. In everyday interactions, there is a plethora of norms—social as well as moral—that suggest unequal rather than equal division. Allocative principles of the type “To each according to his X,” where X could be need, effort, effi­ ciency (ability to convert the scarce good into welfare), temporal prior­ social research Vol 73 : No 2 : Summer 2006 365 ity, or one of many other criteria (Elster, 1992), may in a given situation be perceived as fairer than an equal split. Often, however, more than one principle may apply. One worker may say, “I should earn more because I have children,”whereas another might say, “I should get more because I worked harder.” In such a case, equal division may be chosen as a focalpoint compromise between competing fairness-based claims (Schelling, 1960), rather than because o f any intrinsic fairness property o f equal division. Often, however, it may be hard to tell whether equal division is chosen on grounds of fairness or because of its focal-point properties. Second, there is the idea of afair response to the behavior of other people. In one subcase, this takes the form of a reluctance to be afree rider in many-person interactions. A person might say, “It’s only fair that I refrain from littering, given that most others refrain.”Alternatively, he or she might say, “Fairness does not require me to abstain from litter­ ing, given that most others do litter.” I shall refer to this pattern as conditional cooperation (Fehr and Fischbacher: 2004a). In another subcase, fairness is related to two-person interac­ tions. A farmer might say, “Given that my neighbor helped me with my harvest, it’s only fair that I help him with his.” He might also say, “Given that my neighbor did not help me, it’s not unfair if I don’t help him.” By extension, he might say, “Given that my neighbor let his cattle graze on my land, I am justified in letting my cattle graze on his.” By a further extension, he might say, “Given that my neighbor let his cattle graze on my land, I am justified in taking them to a faraway place, at some cost to me but even greater to him ” These extensions stretch the intuitive idea of fairness. They capture in fact a more general notion, that of reciprocity. Put simply, reciprocity requires you to help those who help you, and allows you, perhaps even requires you, to hurt those who hurt you. In the case of helping those...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 365-376
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Open Access
No
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