On the contribution of ex ante equality to ex post fairness

When distributing an indivisible harm or benefit between multiple individuals, all of whom have an equal claim to avoid the harm or receive the benefit, it is commonly thought that one should hold a lottery in order to give each claimant an equal chance of winning. Moreover, it is often said that, by holding a lottery, one makes the resultant outcome inequality between those who receive the harm or benefit and those who do not less unfair than it would otherwise have been. The stated view – the ‘egalitarian mixed view’ – claims that the unfairness of a brute luck ex post distribution is a function of both the degree of inequality in the ex post distribution itself, and the degree of inequality in the ex ante distribution of chances from which it is derived. Versions of the view have been prominently endorsed by a number of authors, including Arneson, Broome, Diamond, Lang, Otsuka, Parfit, and Temkin. The appeal of the view is linked to its apparent promise to accommodate intuitions that have been thought to threaten views which link the fairness of an outcome either solely to the ex ante distribution or solely to the ex post distribution. I argue, to the contrary, that the egalitarian mixed view is mistaken. In particular, I argue that the distinction at the heart of the view – that between outcomes and changes to probabilities – is morally arbitrary at best and incoherent at worst. I consider possible responses to the charge and find them wanting. I note that the failure of the egalitarian mixed view has significant consequences for policy, including most importantly for how we should interpret the goal of fair equality of opportunity.
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