A central issue in theories of social justice is the potential conflict between equality and efficiency in the distribution of resources. We suggest here that resource priority is a key factor that moderates the perceived fairness of equality/efficiency compromises in resource allocation. Participants were presented with scenarios involving a policy change that pitted equality against economic efficiency in the allocation of a variety of resources that differed in their importance levels (basic versus non-basic). We found that participants gave more weight to efficiency considerations at the expense of equality in distributing non-basic (higher-level) resources than in distributing basic resources. We discuss the priority hypothesis in connection with norms of justice, human motives, the need hierarchy (deficiency versus growth needs), the consumption of basic versus non-basic resources, and the legitimacy of allocation policies.
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Acknowledgements The research was supported by a fellowship from the Center for the Study of Rationality, Hebrew University to Eviathar Matania and by ISF Grants Nos. 822/00 and 344/05 (Israel Science Foundation) to Ilan Yaniv.
- Distribution norms
- Equality/efficiency trade-off
- Resource priority