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‘The Moral Underpinnings of Social Policy Preferences: the Role of Fairness Concerns’ – Charlotte Cavaille (Georgetown)

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NICEP is delighted to be inviting Charlotte Cavaille (Georgetown) to deliver a talk  entitled ‘The Moral Underpinnings of Social Policy Preferences: the Role of Fairness Concerns’ for the Spring schedule of its seminar series.



Fairness concerns permeate public and private discourse on redistribution and the welfare state. Yet, political economists have struggled to incorporate fairness concerns into their model of redistributive politics. One major limiting factor is the absence of a broad agreement on how to conceptualize and operationalize fairness concerns. This talk seeks to address this gap. I defines fairness reasoning as the thought process through which individuals act as if they are a third-party judge ruling on what is fair and what is not. Whether an outcome is perceived as fair depends on how well it fits the norms of reciprocity and proportionality. In Western societies, agreement with –and reliance on– the proportionality norm and reciprocity norm is quasi-universal. Where individuals differ is in their beliefs about the prevalence of norm-violating outcomes and behaviors. One first step in the study of fairness is thus to measure these beliefs, understand how they are distributed in a given population and theorize their determinants. Using European survey data, I use this framework to document how fairness concerns shape support for the welfare state. The implications for our understanding of redistributive politics are numerous. For example, I show that workhorse models theorizing the relationship between inequality and redistribution (e.g. Meltzer and Richard, 1981) implicitly assume a very specific distribution of beliefs on norm violations. Yet, very few countries approximate this distribution. Most importantly, the most unequal countries show a dramatically different distribution, potentially explaining why more inequality has not resulted in more redistribution. The role of fairness concerns in explaining social policy stability and change (both welfare state retrenchment and expansion) is also discussed.

Date(s) - 02 May 2019
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

C10, Teaching & Learning Building