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Kurtis Swope

Social Position and Distributive Justice:
Experimental Evidence

Kurtis Swope
United States Naval Academy

John Cadigan
American University

Pamela Schmitt
United States Naval Academy

Robert Shupp
Ball State University 


Using a simple double-blind dictator experiment, we examine the extent to which subjects’ choices of distributive shares are influenced by unearned social position. We measure social position by the initial distributive shares (resources) and the subjects’ ability to determine the final distributive shares (power). We find that subjects’ decisions are consistent with Rawls’ hypothesis that individuals expect a greater share when in a position with more power and initial resources. Finally, we test if subjects’ choices under a laboratory veil of ignorance are consistent with Rawls’ (1971) concept of distributive justice. “Veiled” individuals exhibit preferences that are less risk-averse and have greater variance than Rawls hypothesized.

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