The Moral Underpinnings of Social Policy Preferences: the Role of Fairness Concerns

Monday, March 11, 2019 - 17:30 to 19:00

The Hall is pleased to announce a forthcoming lecture by Prof. Charlotte Cavaillé, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. 

The talk, entitled 'The Moral Underpinnings of Social Policy Preferences: The Role of Fairness Concerns', will take place at 5.30pm on Monday 11 March at Campion Hall (Lecture Room). 

After the talk there will be Q&A and a drinks reception. 

Prof. Cavaillé's 'research examines the dynamics of popular attitudes towards redistributive social policies at a time of rising inequality, high fiscal stress and high levels of immigration'. More information about her publications and research can be found on her website


Prof. Cavaillé gives the following overview of her talk: 

Fairness concerns permeate public and private discourse on redistribution and the welfare state. Yet, political economists have struggled to incorporate fairness concerns into their model of redistributive politics. One major limiting factor is the absence of a broad agreement on how to conceptualize and operationalize fairness concerns. This talk seeks to address this gap. I defines fairness reasoning as the thought process through which individuals act as if they are a third-party judge ruling on what is fair and what is not. Whether an outcome is perceived as fair depends on how well it fits the norms of reciprocity and proportionality. In Western societies, agreement with –and reliance on– the proportionality norm and reciprocity norm is quasi-universal. Where individuals differ is in their beliefs about the prevalence of norm-violating outcomes and behaviors. One first step in the study of fairness is thus to measure these beliefs, understand how they are distributed in a given population and theorize their determinants. Using European survey data, I use this framework to document how fairness concerns shape support for the welfare state. The implications for our understanding of redistributive politics are numerous. For example, I show that workhorse models theorizing the relationship between inequality and redistribution (e.g. Meltzer and Richard, 1981) implicitly assume a very specific distribution of beliefs on norm violations. Yet, very few countries approximate this distribution. Most importantly, the most unequal countries show a dramatically different distribution, potentially explaining why more inequality has not resulted in more redistribution. The role of fairness concerns in explaining social policy stability and change (both welfare state retrenchment and expansion) is also discussed.