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Sarah Ridout, Harvard (Vanderbilt Fall 2021)

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Title: A Model of Justification
Abstract: I model decision-making constrained by ethics, duty, law, or other virtues or principles. In addition to a true preference, the decision maker (DM) is characterized by a set of preferences that he considers justifiable. In each choice setting, the DM maximizes his true preference over the subset of alternatives that maximize at least one of the justifiable preferences. The justification model unites a broad class of empirical work on distributional preferences, discrimination, corruption, philanthropy, and other domains. I provide simple axiomatic characterizations of several variants of the justification model as well as practical tools for identifying true preferences and justifications from choice behavior. I show that identification is partial in general, but full identification can be achieved by moving to between-subject data and imposing some additional structure on true preferences and justifications. Moving to between-subject data also eliminates the consistency motives that may arise in within-subject experiments. I extend the between-subject justification model to information choice and relate its predictions to the “moral wiggle room” literature. 


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