Presentation on Fairness, Responsibility and Welfare

Dan Hausman

April 7, 2009

I. Introduction

Luck egalitarianism: justice makes a prima facie demand for equality with respect to those features of people's lives for which they are not responsible.

Call that which should be distributed equally "advantage."

Two fundamental claims:

  1. compensation. If people do not differ with respect to features of their lives for which they are responsible, then they should enjoy equal advantage. "endowment insensitive"
  2. (liberal) reward. Features for which people are responsible never call for compensation or redistribution. "ambition sensitive"

Logically independent

When advantage depends on an interaction between factors for which people are and are not responsible, it is typically impossible to satisfy both.

Conditional equality & egalitarian equivalence: compromise standards of equality.

Conditional equality equalizes advantage for some reference set of responsibility features.

  • satisfies liberal reward -- compensation independent of people's responsibility features
  • satisfies compensation for the reference set of responsibility features.

Egalitarian equivalence: Each individual's advantage equals what it would be with their existing responsibility traits if all were in the reference circumstances and received an equal transfer.

  • satisfies compensation: same advantage to those with the same responsibility features.
  • satisfies liberal reward for those who are in the reference circumstances

One needs to specify that counts as "advantage"

One needs to specify what things people are responsible for.

  • Chapter 6 criticizes other theories of responsibility and Dworkin's hypothetical insurance
  • Chapter 10 offers a theory of advantage which implies an account of responsibility.
  • Not planning on discussing chapter 7 today.

II. Option luck and insurance

Discussion Question #1: In contrast to Dworkin, Arneson, and Cohen, Fleurbaey denies that individuals should generally be held responsible for option luck. Why? How is his argument for this conclusion related to his critique of insurance?

Dworkin on brute vs. option luck


  1. No one is responsible for their luck
  2. Measure of individual advantage should be comprehensive and take into account the values and costs of undergoing risks as well as the harms or benefits of outcomes
  3. Social evaluation should be ex post. What matters is how things turn out, not the expectations (except insofar as expectations themselves affect advantage)

Insurance and hypothetical insurance.

  • Why Dworkin is attracted to them.
  • Ex post insurance does not satisfy the compensation principle
  • Insurance can be perverse (Roemer)

Conditional equality applied to risks:

  • Suppose we take the reference responsibility characteristics to be cautious.
  • No distribution required to equalize the advantage everyone would have if (counterfactually) everyone were cautious.
  • Conditional equality implies in this application responsibility for option luck.

Discussion Question #2 On pages 160 and 161 Fleurbaey explains how conditional equality can imply that there should be no compensation for bad option luck. How is this rationale for holding individuals responsible for bad option luck different from Dworkin's, Arneson's or Cohen's? To what extent does this application of conditional equality refute Fleurbaey's own claim that people should not be held responsible for bad option luck?

3. Responsibility

Discussion Question #3 Why does Fleurbaey reject both the control conception of responsibility and the sort of self-endorsed preference or character conception of responsibility Dworkin defends? Since he winds up agreeing with Dworkin that individuals should be held responsible for their preferences, is there really much difference in Dworkin's and Fleurbaey's views of what individuals are responsible for?

a. Critique of control views

b. Critique of preference views

c. An alternative approach: reject "pre-institutional" view of responsibility

  • Grant the view that an individual should be compensated for a trait if and only if the individual is not responsible for it, but
  • Run it backwards: An individual is responsible for some trait if and only if the individual should not be compensated for it – cf. Rawls
  • Seek an independent theory of what people should or shouldn't be compensated for.
  • Two principles governing what people should be compensated for
  • Individuals must have and exercise freedom – two tiers
      • Basic liberties – alternatives, decision-making competence
      • Respect preferences
      • Why should freedom govern?
      • Is there a reduction of the value of equality to the value of freedom?
  • No comparisons of how satisfied people are with their lives (neutrality)
      • Hence no compensation for lesser satisfaction
      • Hence people are responsible for their level of satisfaction

Question: are comparisons possible concerning how good lives are that are not comparisons of how satisfied people are with their lives?

Discussion Question #4: Fleurbaey argues that instead of invoking some pre-institutional notion of responsibility, we should base our decision concerning what individuals should be compensated for by our commitment to promoting freedom. Our commitment to freedom will in that way determine what we will hold people responsible for. How specifically does a commitment to freedom determine what we hold people responsible for?

Page 259 questions:

  • How can individuals compare how good their lives are compared to others?
  • Why are these judgments superior to comparisons of how satisfying people find their lives?
  • If individuals are able to make such comparisons of how good lives are, why can't we?

d. Comparison with Dworkin

  • Both make individuals responsible for their preferences
  • Protecting fundamental liberties limits this responsibility

Question: Do fundamental liberties augment responsibilities in any way?

  • More positive and forgiving
  • Supports restarts and welfare for surfers.
  • Treatment of manipulation or conditioning
    • Not a problem of authenticity
    • Manipulation or conditioning may restrict freedom
    • Manipulation or conditioning may give unfair advantages

4. Application of egalitarian equivalence

  • Liberal reward is constrained by protecting basic freedoms, which precludes laissez faire
  • Egalitarian-Equivalence criterion "evaluates social arrangements on the basis of individual ordinal and non-comparable preferences over personal situations, which corresponds to liberal reward for utilities, but otherwise gives priority to the compensation principle."
  • Implementing:
  • Define "a set of reference situations" which "must be easily comparable to each other and this is obtained by requiring that they dominate one another, in one or several dimensions, while being identical in the remaining dimensions."

Question: I thought that the task was to define a single reference circumstance (however complex and multidimensional). Why must reference situations be comparable?

  • Determine priority (who is worse off) by determining what transfer would be required to make the individual indifferent between the actual state and how he/she would be in the reference circumstances with that transfer.

p. 270 " A noteworthy feature of the Egalitarian-Equivalence criterion is that it provides a way out of the indexing dilemma which is commonly thought to plague theories of justice. . . .there is another possibility, exemplified by the concept of egalitarian-equivalence, which consists in using an index constructed with ordinal non-comparable preferences. This is neither welfarist nor perfectionist. It is not welfarist because it does not rely on interpersonal comparable information about satisfaction...."


  • I can see how conditional equality could compare people's circumstances and outcomes by means of ordinal non-comparable preferences, since we rely on the reference preferences. But I don't see how egalitarian equivalence permits conclusions concerning who is worse off without invoking interpersonal comparisons.
  • The last sentence quoted suggests welfarism requires interpersonal comparisons. This would imply that standard welfare economics is not welfarist.

Discussion Question #5: Fleurbaey maintains (I think) that egalitarian equivalence makes it possible to identify whose menu of choices is worst and more generally who is worst off without making any interpersonal comparisons of the extent to which people's preferences are satisfied. This seems impossible to me. He gives an example of how this is supposed to work on page 271. Can you reconstruct his argument?