Self-serving views on redistributive fairness

Funding agency: Hertha Firnberg Programme of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF)

Amount: Euro 234'000

Project duration: Feb 2019 -  Jan 2022

Project team:
Linda Desző
Jean-Robert Tyran

Short description:

Experimental research on distributive preferences reports that people prefer compensating low income through redistribution when it is due to factors one cannot control. However, there are situations where partners’ incomes were previously unequal, while in a new, present income allocation they receive equal outcomes. Only one paper examines a similar situation, finding that the person with the unfortunate history self-servingly believes that he is entitled to compensation for his past, while the person with the fortunate history believes that the past is irrelevant to the present. We propose an agenda investigating how history shapes distributive preferences, and the association between distributive fairness violations and unethical behavior. We argue that examining the relationship between history and distributive preferences sheds light, for example, on whether a fair welfare system should consider individual contribution history.
First, we ask if asymmetric contribution history to joint earnings leads to self-serving invocations of history between partners when proposing divisions.
Second, we address whether partners sharing asymmetric initial income levels due to a previous allocation hold divergent views about the fair distribution of new, jointly created proceeds to which they contributed
equally. We study the extent to which preferences for maintaining income hierarchy and inequality aversion (beyond greed) drive distributive preferences.
Relatedly, we examine the association between imposing a distributive scheme on the rich and poor and subsequent unethical behavior. Imposed distributive schemes would systematically vary how much post-distribution rank is maintained/reversed and how income inequality is decreased/increased between them.