Power, Knowledge and Justice: Experiments on Distributive Decisions in Networks

  • Date: Feb 11, 2019
  • Time: 16:00
  • Speaker: Bernhard Kittel
  • University of Kiel
  • Location: MPI
  • Room: Basement

The satisfaction of needs is, next to equality and equity, a third core foundation of distributive justice, which suggests to distribute resources according to individual demands that are recognized by society.One fundamental problem to apply the need principle is that actual individual needs may be private information. In this study, we examine experimentally whether compliance with the need principle depends on the identifiability of individual needs. In our experiment, one structurally advantaged subject in a group of three has to privately negotiate the allocation of a fixed resource within the group with one of the other two subjects. Each group member is assigned an individual threshold of points to be obtained in order to earn additional income in a subsequent real-effort task. In two treatments, we vary the objective information that subjects receive about the neediness of the group members. The thresholds are either private information or all subjects have full information about the thresholds of others. The results suggest that transparency increases the likelihood that needs are satisfied, especially for those who are not an active part of the agreement. However, the information about need thresholds matters less for those who are part of the negotiating dyad. Even though needs of third subjects are more likely to be recognized if they are transparent for others, their average payoff is lower than in the intransparency treatment. Therefore, our experiment reveals a potential flipside of need-based justice: Need levels may be instrumentalized by decision-makers to justify unequal allocations and the discrimination of marginalized groups.

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