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The Distributive Justice Game


Lori Alden


Welfare Economics: Allocative Efficiency, Externalities, Fairness, Altruism


Non-computerized experiment


The Distributive Justice Game asks students to draft a social contract while in a state that roughly mimics Rawls' original position. I begin by limiting the amount of chairs, time, pencils, and textbooks that the class will be able to use during an upcoming extra credit quiz. I announce that I intend to allocate these resources among the students according to such attributes as sex, race, and wealth. I then divide the students into groups and invite them, if they wish, to redistribute these resources among themselves. There's a catch, though. To give the game a Rawlsian twist, I announce that I will not allocate the quiz-taking resources according to the students' existing attributes; instead, all students will be "reborn" just before the quiz and given new identities. Unsure of whether their new attributes will entitle them to a fair share of the quiz-taking resources, students often strive to redistribute them as equally as possible, even at the expense of efficiency.


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