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Joe Mazor (LSE): “Moral Foundations of Fair Division”

11 November 2015, 5:30 pm7:00 pm

Abstract: The “fair division” approach to problems of distribution is increasingly prominent in welfare economics. Complex variations of hypothetical problems like dividing a cake have been analysed in detail, and the solutions have been applied to real world problems such as dividing an inheritance and allocating land rights. Although the problems of heterogeneity and indivisibility that are considered in these contexts are important, at the heart of the fair division literature is a controversial and under-explored commitment to resourcism. In the homogeneous good case, fair division recommends giving each claimant an equal amount of the resource. This talk will explore the normative foundations of resourcist fair division.

The key argument in favor of resourcism given by welfare economists is a rejection of interpersonal comparisons of welfare. However, I will argue that this commitment is implausible and in any case is insufficient to justify a resourcist fair division. Instead, I will argue that a more plausible foundation for a resourcist fair division are the commitments to rejecting aggregative conceptions of equality and rejecting other-responsibility. I then explain why, in at least some cases, the rejection of other-responsibility is plausible.

However, a resourcist notion of equality is, by itself, insufficient. Some concern with the aggregate is also necessary to make fair division plausible (otherwise, a solution in which no claimant receives anything would be acceptable). I argue that, at least in the homogeneous good case, waste-freeness is the right resourcist condition to endorse rather than Pareto efficiency.

I conclude by briefly considering the heterogeneous good case. I argue that the envy-free condition is indeed a plausible analogue to the equal-amount condition used in the homogeneous good case. I also argue that Kaldor-Hicks efficiency (rather than Pareto efficiency or Dworkin’s procedural fairness) is the plausible analogue to the waste-free condition advocated in the homogeneous good case.


11 November 2015
5:30 pm – 7:00 pm
Event Category:




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