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Presented By: Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies

WCED Lecture. Fair Enough? Fairness Reasoning and Demand for Redistribution

Charlotte Cavaillé, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, U-M

Charlotte Cavaille Charlotte Cavaille
Charlotte Cavaille
Fairness concerns are ubiquitous in the realm of redistributive politics. Yet it is not easy to pinpoint what fairness is and what a positive analysis of fairness might look like. This talk builds on research across the social sciences to provide a parsimonious approach to the study of fairness “in action,” with evidence from Western Europe and the United States.

In Western democracies, Cavaillé argues, reasoning about the fairness of redistributive social policies implies two types of fairness evaluation: (1) how fair is it for some to make (a lot) more money than others in the marketplace, (2) how fair is it for some to receive more in benefits than they pay in taxes? Each question calls to mind a different norm of fairness: the proportionality norm, which prescribes that individual rewards be proportional to effort and talent, and the reciprocity norm, which prescribes that cooperative behavior be rewarded more than uncooperative behavior. Agreement with these two norms is quasi-universal. Where people differ is in their beliefs about the prevalence of norm-violating outcomes and behaviors, i.e., the extent to which what is deviates from what ought to be. These fairness beliefs provide individuals with a proto-ideology through which to interpret the world and pick policies that increase the fairness of the status quo. Accounting for the nature and empirical manifestations of fairness reasoning provides a new understanding of the demand side of redistributive politics in times of rising inequality.

Charlotte Cavaillé is an assistant professor of public policy at the University of Michigan's Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. Previously, she was a visiting fellow at Princeton University’s Center for the Study of Democratic Politics and an assistant professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. Through her research, which has appeared in the Journal of Politics and the American Political Science Review, Cavaillé examines the dynamics of popular attitudes towards redistributive social policies at a time of rising inequality, high fiscal stress, and high levels of immigration. She is currently turning her dissertation, which received the 2016 Mancur Olson Best Dissertation Award, into a book manuscript entitled “Asking for More: Support for Redistribution in the Age of Inequality.” Building on that work, she also studies the relationship between immigration, the welfare state, and the rise of populism. Cavaillé received her PhD in government and social policy from Harvard University in 2014.

This is an in-person event for U-M students, faculty, and staff only. You may participate remotely by registering at:

This lecture is part of the WCED series on "Capitalism and Democracy." 2022 will mark the 30th anniversary of the publication of Capitalist Development and Democracy (by Dietrich Rueschmeyer et. al. in 1992) and the 80th anniversary of the publication of Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (by Joseph Schumpeter in 1942). It is thus a perfect occasion to think anew about how capitalism and democracy interact. At WCED we will be hosting a series of events with “Capitalism and Democracy” as our annual theme.

If there is anything we can do to make this event accessible to you, please contact us at Please be aware that advance notice is necessary as some accommodations may require more time for the university to arrange.

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