from arising in the first place. Perhaps this is too much to ask, but we can hope to minimize conflicts and, should they arise, to resolve them more rapidly and with less waste of resources on counterproductive argument and maneuvering.

Research on fairness and self-service was started at least four decades ago by psychologists with their work on equity theory.2 In the last two decades, experimental economists have mounted a large fairness research effort, motivated by early experiments in which humans failed to show completely selfish, self-interested behavior—the behavior assumed by economic theory.3 At the same time, researchers from every branch of the social sciences have made and continue to make contributions to the theory. The main research tools have been surveys, case studies, laboratory studies using human subjects, and development of theory that is informed by the empirical findings and stimulated by them.

In this paper, I give a very brief summary in the next two sections of the present state of theories of fairness and self-service. I do not claim that the summary is complete; rather it reflects my own view and research interests. Other fairness researchers’ summaries might have a different emphasis.4 The last section discusses the implications of the theory for policy design and implementation, first pointing out that privatization leads to a problem


See, for example, E. Walster, G.W. Walster, and E. Berscheid, 1978, Equity Theory and Research, Allyn and Bacon, Boston, 312 pp.


A pioneering work that greatly stimulated economists’ interest in fairness or distributive justice is W. Güth, R. Schmittberger, and B. Schwarze, 1982, An experimental analysis of ultimatum bargaining, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, v. 3, p. 362-388.


For other taxonomies of fairness principles, see H.P. Young, 1994, Equity: In Theory and Practice, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J., 253 pp. (6 axioms as the basis of a mathematical characterization of distributive justice); B.H. Sheppard, R.J. Lewicki, and J.W. Minton, 1992, Organizational Justice: The Search for Fairness in the Workplace, Lexington Books, Cambridge, Mass., 228 pp. (18 principles of distributive, procedural, and systemwide justice); and S.W. Gilliland, 1993, The perceived fairness of selection systems: An organizational justice perspective, Academy of Management Review, v. 18, p. 694-734 (9 procedural rules that enhance the perceived fairness of selection procedures). The reader interested in positive fairness research can also find more in M. Bar-Hillel and M. Yaari, 1984, On dividing justly, Social Choice and Welfare, v. 1, p. 1-24; R. Cropanzano and J. Greenberg, 1997, Progress in organizational justice: Tunneling through the maze, in International Review of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, v. 12, C.L. Cooper and I.T. Robertson, eds., John Wiley, New York, pp. 317-370; J. Elster, ed., 1995, Local Justice in America, Russell Sage Foundation, New York, pp. 81-151; J. Greenberg, 1996, The Quest for Justice on the Job: Essays and Experiments, Sage, Thousand Oaks, Calif., 428 pp.; G. Jasso, 1990, Methods for the theoretical and empirical analysis of comparison processes, in Sociological Methodology, C. Clogg, ed., American Sociological Association, Washington, D.C., pp. 369-419. It should be noted in passing that there is also a large academic literature on negotiation, arbitration, and conflict resolution, per se (see, for example, M. Deutsch and P.T. Coleman, 2000, The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 649 pp.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement