By James Kwak
For a class, I read an old (1986) paper by Kahneman, Knetsch, and Thaler on fairness. It’s based on surveys posing various hypothetical situations where businesses can take some action. For example, most people thought that it was OK for a grocer to pass on a wholesale price increase to consumers (Question 7) but not to raise prices because there is a general shortage and the grocer has the only shipment of a certain item (Question 12). In short, people have an intrinsic sense of fairness the authors summarize this way: “The cardinal rule of fairness is surely that one person should not achieve a gain by simply imposing an equivalent loss on another.”
Today in class, the professor posed the first question from the paper:
“A hardware store has been selling snow shovels for $15. The morning after a large snowstorm, the store raises the price to $20.”
In 1986, 82 percent of respondents thought this was unfair. In class, it was about 50-50.