Suppose that you must make choices that may influence the well-being and the identities of the people who will exist, though not the number of people who will exist. How ought you to choose? This paper answers this question. It argues that the currency of distributive ethics in such cases is a combination of an individual’s final well-being and her expected well-being conditional on her existence. It also argues that this currency should be distributed in an egalitarian, rather than a (...) prioritarian, manner. (shrink)
The difference between the unity of the individual and the separateness of persons requires that there be a shift in the moral weight that we accord to changes in utility when we move from making intrapersonal tradeoffs to making interpersonal tradeoffs. We examine which forms of egalitarianism can, and which cannot, account for this shift. We argue that a form of egalitarianism which is concerned only with the extent of outcome inequality cannot account for this shift. We also argue that (...) a view which is concerned with both outcome inequality and with the unfairness of inequality in individuals‘ expected utilities can account for this shift. Finally, we limn an alternative view, on.. (shrink)
If a potential person would have a good life if he were to come into existence, can we regard his coming into existence as better for him than his never coming into existence? And can we regard the situation in which he never comes into existence as worse for him? In this paper, we argue that both questions should be answered affirmatively.
Policy-makers must sometimes choose between an alternative which has somewhat lower expected value for each person, but which will substantially improve the outcomes of the worst off, or an alternative which has somewhat higher expected value for each person, but which will leave those who end up worst off substantially less well off. The popular ex ante Pareto principle requires the choice of the alternative with higher expected utility for each. We argue that ex ante Pareto ought to be rejected (...) because it conflicts with the requirement that, when possible, one ought to decide as one would with full information. We apply our argument in an analysis of US policy on screening for breast cancer. -/- . (shrink)
John Rawls's work has greatly contributed to rehabilitating equality as a basic social value, after decades of utilitarian hegemony,particularly in normative economics, but Rawls also emphasized that full equality of welfare is not an adequate goal either. This thesis was echoed in Dworkin's famous twin papers on equality, and it is now widely accepted that egalitarianism must be selective. The bulk of the debate on ‘Equality of What?’ thus deals with what variables ought to be submitted for selection and how (...) this selection ought to be carried out. (shrink)
We shall focus on moral theories that are solely concerned with promoting the benefits (e.g., wellbeing) of individuals and explore the possibility of such theories ascribing some priority to benefits to those who are worse off—without this priority being absolute. Utilitarianism (which evaluates alternatives on the basis of total or average benefits) ascribes no priority to the worse off, and leximin (which evaluates alternatives by giving lexical priority to the worst off, and then the second worst off, and so on) (...) ascribes absolute priority to the worse off (i.e., favors even a very small benefit to a worse off person over very large benefits to large numbers of better off people). Neither extreme view, we assume, is plausible. (shrink)
Is GDP a good proxy for social welfare? Building on economic theory, this book confirms that it is not, but also that most alternatives to it share its basic flaw, i.e., a focus on specific aspects of people's lives without sufficiently taking account of people's values and goals. A better approach is possible.
This article defends the principle of giving a fresh start to individuals who come to consider that they have mismanaged their share of resources at an earlier stage of their life. The first part challenges the ethical intuition that it would be unfair to tax the steadfast frugal in order to help the regretful spendthrift and argues that the possibility of changing ones mind is an important freedom. The second part examines the disincentives induced by fresh-start policies. It shows that (...) even when individuals can strategically misrepresent their preferences, there remains a significant difference between unforgiving and forgiving policies. It shows that the optimal policy does not only redistribute funds, but also puts protective constraints on early individual decisions (for example, compulsory saving through social security taxes). Key Words: fairness freedom fresh start incentives preference changes regret. (shrink)
This paper makes a contribution to the further development of the game-theoretic analysis of rights. The model presented here differs in several respects from the existing models. First of all, a distinction is made between outcome-oriented and action-oriented rights, a distinction which is closely related to the distinction between active and passive rights. Second, the legal-theoretic notions of negative and positive rights are formally defined. Third, we not only discuss the definition of rights, but also the way rights can be (...) violated. Using the distinction between negative and positive rights on the one hand, and between active and passive rights on the other, four different types of basic rights are distinguished. For each of these rights, the situations in which they can be said to be respected are examined. We thereby distinguish two possible sources of obstruction: by (groups of) individuals, and by law. Finally, the question of the possible realization of rights is examined. Depending on how the problem of the possible mutual incompatibility of rights is addressed, two distinct approaches are examined. It turns out that in both approaches the possible realization of rights crucially depends on characteristics of the 'state of nature'. (shrink)
It has become accepted that social choice is impossible in the absence of interpersonal comparisons of well-being. This view is challenged here. Arrow obtained an impossibility theorem only by making unreasonable demands on social choice functions. With reasonable requirements, one can get very attractive possibilities and derive social preferences on the basis of non-comparable individual preferences. This new approach makes it possible to design optimal second-best institutions inspired by principles of fairness, while traditionally the analysis of optimal second-best institutions was (...) thought to require interpersonal comparisons of well-being. In particular, this approach turns out to be especially suitable for the application of recent philosophical theories of justice formulated in terms of fairness, such as equality of resources. (shrink)
We consider a special set of risky prospects in which the outcomes are either life or death. There are various alternatives to the utilitarian objective of minimizing the expected loss of lives in such prospects. We start off with the two-person case with independent risks and construct taxonomies of ex ante and ex post evaluations for such prospects. We examine the relationship between the ex ante and the ex post in this restrictive framework: There are more possibilities to respect ex (...) ante and ex post objectives simultaneously than in the general framework, i.e. without the restriction to binary utilities. We extend our results to n persons and to dependent risks. We study optimal strategies for allocating risk reductions given different objectives. We place our results against the backdrop of various pro-poorly off value functions for the evaluation of risky prospects. (shrink)
This paper distinguishes an index ordering and a social ordering function as a simple way to formalize the indexing problem in the social choice framework. Two main conclusions are derived. First, the alleged dilemma between welfarism and perfectionism is shown to involve a third possibility, exemplified by the fairness approach to social choice. Second, the idea that an individual is better off than another whenever he has more (goods, functionings, etc.) in all dimensions, which is known to enter in conflict (...) with the Pareto principle, can be partly salvaged by adopting the fairness approach. (shrink)
Inspired by Gaertner and Xu , this paper examines the possibility to construct a social ordering over distributions of capability sets, and a measure of the value of individual capability sets, such that perfect equality of sets, across individuals, is preferable to a simple equality of the value of sets. It is shown that this is a rather demanding requirement.
This paper re-examines the welfare economics of risk. It singles out a class of criteria, the “expected equally-distributed equivalent”, as the unique class which avoids serious drawbacks of existing approaches. Such criteria behave like ex-post criteria when the final statistical distribution of wellbeing is known ex ante, and like ex-ante criteria when risk generates no inequality. The paper also provides a new result on the tension between inequality aversion and respect of individual ex ante preferences, in the vein of Harsanyi’s (...) aggregation theorem. (shrink)
This rejoinder to Roemer examines Roemer's amendment to his EOp criterion, explains the similarities and differences between Roemer's approach to equality of opportunity and the economic literature inspired by the fair allocation theory, and proposes some clarifications on the compensation principle and the role of the reward principle in the definition of a responsibility-sensitive social criterion. It highlights the power of the ideal of respect for individual preferences with respect to the reward issue and the concern for potential harshness of (...) the social criterion toward the individuals who fail to make good use of their opportunities. It discusses Roemer's objection against holding individuals responsible for their preferences. (shrink)
This paper examines the exercise of individual or group rights within the game form approach. It focuses in particular on what it means for a strategy or action to be feasible and admissible. Admissibility is best discussed in relation to two basic distinctions among rights, passive and active rights on the one hand and negative and positive rights on the other. It is argued that while there are quite a few cases in which the outcomes of mutual rights exercising are (...) to the fore, there are many situations where the uninhibited exercise of individual or group rights and not particular outcomes are what society is primarily interested in. (shrink)
We argue that the economic evaluation of health care (cost–benefit analysis) should respect individual preferences and should incorporate distributional considerations. Relying on individual preferences does not imply subjective welfarism. We propose a particular non-welfarist approach, based on the concept of equivalent income, and show how it helps to define distributional weights. We illustrate the feasibility of our approach with empirical results from a pilot survey.
Imagine that two ten year-old children, Adam and Bill, have excellent vision but will soon go totally blind due to natural causes unless a morally motivated stranger, Teresa, intervenes. Teresa can use a resource she rightfully controls to produce and administer only one of the following two medicines to both Adam and Bill.
In Marshall's Tendencies, John Sutton provides a wide-ranging and thought-provoking set of reflections about economic modelling and the relationship between theory and data. With a handful of suggestive examples and a transparent and elegant style, he manages to maintain a clarity of presentation that makes his thoughts accessible to a large audience while leading the reader into the heart of the difficulties of economic theory in matters of empirical testing.
In a model of private good allocation, we construct social orderings which depend only on ordinal non-comparable information about individual preferences. In order to avoid Arrovian-type impossibilities, we let those social preferences take account of the shape of individual indifference curves. This allows us to introduce equity and cross-economy robustness properties, inspired by the theory of fair allocation. Combining such properties, we characterize two families of fair social orderings.
The definition and measurement of social welfare have been a vexed issue for the past century. This book makes a constructive, easily applicable proposal and suggests how to evaluate the economic situation of a society in a way that gives priority to the worse-off and that respects each individual's preferences over his or her own consumption, work, leisure and so on. This approach resonates with the current concern to go 'beyond the GDP' in the measurement of social progress. Compared to (...) technical studies in welfare economics, this book emphasizes constructive results rather than paradoxes and impossibilities, and shows how one can start from basic principles of efficiency and fairness and end up with concrete evaluations of policies. Compared to more philosophical treatments of social justice, this book is more precise about the definition of social welfare and reaches conclusions about concrete policies and institutions only after a rigorous derivation from clearly stated principles. (shrink)
The utlitiarian economist and Nobel Laureate John Harsanyi and the liberal egalitarian philosopher John Rawls were two of the most eminent scholars writing on problems of social justice in the last century. The contributions to this volume, addressed to an interdisciplinary audience, pay tribute to them by investigating themes that figure prominently in their work. In some cases, the contributors explore issues considered by Harsanyi and Rawls in more depth and from novel perspectives. In others, the contributors use the work (...) of Harsanyi and Rawls as points of departure for pursuing the construction of new theories for the evaluation of social justice. (shrink)