On Fairness

Thought for the day:

“Fairness” is often described in terms of equality of outcomes. But in a game, the “fairest” rules are often those that make the ablest players mostly likely to win, instead of those that distribute wins most evenly among players.

So says Robin Hanson at the start of a fascinating essay which he introduces thus:

A wide range of common intuitions about “fairness” cannot … be easily understood in terms of desires for relatively equal outcomes. For example, while there may often be widespread political support for redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor, and for limiting the influence of money on many areas of life, there is very little support for redistributing from the pretty to the ugly, or from the witty to the dull. And there is little support for limiting the advantages that good-looking people receive in most areas of life.

In this short paper I describe how many of these common intuitions about fairness can be understood as a desire for clear fitness signals. That is, people use looks, sports, art, conversation, education, wealth, and much more to signal to potential mates that they have good genes.

(Link via Venu.)