Judgments of Distributive Justice

Maya Bar-Hillel
Menahem Yaari

The basic rule of distributive justice is the proportionality rule, which states that "Distributive justice involves a relationship between ... two persons, P1 and P2 one of whom can be assessed as higher than, or lower than, the other; and their two shares, or ... rewards, R1 and R2. The condition of distributive justice is satisfied when ... : P1/P2=R1/R2". (Homans, 1961). We studied this rule, in survey style, using cases such as the following: "suppose you have 12 grapefruit which you divide between Jones and Smith in as just a manner as possible. How should this be done ?". in our problems, either one or two goods were to be allocated between two recipients who differed on at most one dimension, either needs (e.g, Smith requires more grapefruit than Jones), beliefs (e.g, Smith believes that grapefruit are less nutritious than Jones believes them to be), or tastes (e.g, Smith enjoys grapefruit more than Jones). the results show that it is very hard to be more specific than the general formulation above without being ad hoc. For example, most people wish to allocate proportionately to need, only a minority wish to allocate proportionately to beliefs, and insofar as people wish to take tastes into consideration, they do so in a non-compensatory fashion. In other words, with regard to needs, less efficient extractors are awarded larger shares, but with regard to pleasure, more efficient extractors are awarded larger shares. Since real world distribution problems don't come neatly labelled as needs, tastes, etc., it is hard to predict or theorize what would be "just" in them.

September, 1992
Published in: 
In Psychological Perspectives on Justice. B. Mellers & J. Baron (eds.) Cambridge University Press (1993) Ch. 4, 55-84