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Misfortune, Insurance, and the Liberal State: the perplexities of fairness

Speaker: Professor Eugene Bardach, Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley
: 27 May 2003
Time: 1:00pm - 2:30pm
Venue: CARR Seminar Room, H615


The modern liberal state compensates citizens for a wide variety of misfortunes. These range from being victim of an earthquake to being a single parent in poverty to having a new highway disrupt your neighbourhood. I am currently at work on a book that takes a policy designer's perspective on this broad array of policies. In my seminar I will present the outlines of the theory to be developed in the book as a whole, and will apply it to one particular misfortune: being the victim of a terrorist attack.

Any compensation policy implicitly or explicitly contains answers to three big questions: For what? How much? To whom? The answers must be evaluated against several design criteria, of which the most important are optimal prevention and fairness. In this seminar I focus on the latter, and particularly on the dimension of fairness which answers the three big questions by prescribing proportionality to moral deservedness. My main purpose in the book is to analyse the relative virtues and limitations of four proportionality theories, based respectively on empathy, social solidarity, insurance, and restitution.

No proportionality theory, of course, can remain perfectly intact in the real world of coalition-formation, pluralistic bargaining, and rent-seeking. When policy designers decide what is morally fair, they must also consider what is sustainable politically and under realistic conditions of implementation.