fbpx When waste pays: Inefficient (but seemingly fair) resource allocators receive social and economic rewards | Harvard Kennedy School

HKS Affiliated Authors

Thornton Bradshaw Professor of Public Policy, Decision Science, and Management


2019, Paper, "The tension between equality and efficiency presents a cardinal trade-off in scarce resource allocation decisions. Three pre-registered experiments (N=1,095) and an independent replication (N=300) drew on the revised value pluralism model (Tetlock, Peterson, & Lerner, 1996) to predict how decision makers resolve such trade-offs. Studies 1-2 found that social observation by non-stakeholders increased allocators’ preferences for equal (yet inefficient) allocations – a finding that held even with real money and even when the efficient allocation made one party better off and no one worse off. Study 3 found that allocators who made inefficient choices received positive evaluations and monetary rewards from observers. Analyses also examined the boundary conditions for such benefits and the underlying mechanisms. Taken together, the results elucidate causal mechanisms for a fact of political life: Decision makers who make equal rather than efficient allocations can, by virtue of doing so, receive greater financial and social rewards from observers."