Keynote Address: The Human Quest for Fairness and Equality: Evolutionary Origins and Socio-Political Consequences

Keynote speaker: Ernst Fehr, University of Zurich, Switzerland

For thousands of years, Homo sapiens lived under extremely egalitarian conditions that involved a high degree of resource sharing and equality. Today, this egalitarian legacy can still be observed in many small-scale societies, and a strong egalitarian component also characterizes the distributional preferences of Western populations. In this presentation, Fehr documents these patterns and shows that individuals cluster around three global, fundamentally distinct, preference types characterized as altruistic, inequality averse, and predominantly selfish—with the selfish type typically comprising a minority of individuals. The evidence shows that these strong deviations from selfishness have strong implications for demands related to redistribution, charitable donations, how people respond to truthful information about inequality, and a host of other important behaviors in organizations and society. Finally, he addresses the question of why preferences for fairness and equality sometimes have no influence on social behavior.

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