This work has two main flaws, and one possible virtue. I am acutely aware of the fact that I am stretching my competence thinly over a large number of areas. It is not just that my treatment of the issues is selective: my knowledge is based on what may well be, in some cases, idiosyncratically chosen, unrepresentative, or dated sources. Although I could have gathered more, and more accurate, information, this would not have made much of a difference for the main purpose of the book, which is to sketch a framework for the study of the in-kind allocation of goods and burdens.
Unfortunately, that framework turned out to be messy and ugly. I have been unable to respect the standards of simplicity and parsimony that many readers will feel they have a right to expect. It may be that I just lack the ability or the inclination to cut through the bewildering surface variety of local justice phenomena and find the underlying principles that would bestow intelligibility on them all. Or it might be that there are no such principles to be found, and that the messiness is inherent in the object. Most probably, there is some truth in both hypotheses.
I hope that some readers, nevertheless, will share my delight and exhiliration in observing the endless variety and inventiveness of human institutions. The details are not incidental to the story I am telling: they are its essence. I am sure I could have told the story better, and perhaps a better sort of story could have been told; but I hope there may still be some instruction and entertainment in what follows.
Jon Elster, Local Justice: How Institutions Allocate Scarce Goods and Necessary Burdens (1992), S. vii–viii