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Optimal Inequality behind the Veil of Ignorance

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  • Liang, Che-Yuan

    ()
    (Department of Economics)

Abstract

In Rawls’ (1971) influential social contract approach to distributive justice, the fair income distribution is the one that an individual would choose behind a veil of ignorance. Harsanyi (1953, 1955, 1975) treats this situation as a decision under risk and arrives at utilitarianism using expected utility theory. This paper investigates the implications of applying prospect theory instead, which better describes behavior under risk. I find that the specific type of inequality in bottom-heavy right-skewed income distributions, which includes the log-normal income distribution, could be socially desirable. The optimal inequality result contrasts the implications of other social welfare criteria.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Uppsala University, Department of Economics in its series Working Paper Series with number 2013:7.

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Length: 26 pages
Date of creation: 29 Apr 2013
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:hhs:uunewp:2013_007

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Postal: Department of Economics, Uppsala University, P. O. Box 513, SE-751 20 Uppsala, Sweden
Phone: + 46 18 471 25 00
Fax: + 46 18 471 14 78
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Web page: http://www.nek.uu.se/
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Keywords: veil of ignorance; prospect theory; social welfare function; income inequality;

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  1. John C. Harsanyi, 1955. "Cardinal Welfare, Individualistic Ethics, and Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 63, pages 309.
  2. Atkinson, Anthony B., 1970. "On the measurement of inequality," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 2(3), pages 244-263, September.
  3. Amos Tversky & Daniel Kahneman, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Levine's Working Paper Archive 7656, David K. Levine.
  4. Yoram Amiel & Frank Cowell & Wulf Gaertner, 2009. "To be or not to be involved: a questionnaire-experimental view on Harsanyi’s utilitarian ethics," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer, vol. 32(2), pages 299-316, February.
  5. Olof Johansson-Stenman & Fredrik Carlsson & Dinky Daruvala, 2002. "Measuring Future Grandparents" Preferences for Equality and Relative Standing," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(479), pages 362-383, April.
  6. George Wu & Richard Gonzalez, 1996. "Curvature of the Probability Weighting Function," Management Science, INFORMS, INFORMS, vol. 42(12), pages 1676-1690, December.
  7. Erich Battistin & Richard Blundell & Arthur Lewbel, 2007. "Why is Consumption More Log Normal Than Income? Gibrat's Law Revisited," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 671, Boston College Department of Economics.
  8. B. Douglas Bernheim & Antonio Rangel, 2009. "Beyond Revealed Preference: Choice-Theoretic Foundations for Behavioral Welfare Economics-super-," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, MIT Press, vol. 124(1), pages 51-104, February.
  9. Mas-Colell, Andreu & Whinston, Michael D. & Green, Jerry R., 1995. "Microeconomic Theory," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, Oxford University Press, number 9780195102680, October.
  10. Botond Koszegi & Matthew Rabin, 2005. "A Model of Reference-Dependent Preferences," Levine's Bibliography 784828000000000341, UCLA Department of Economics.
  11. Drazen Prelec, 1998. "The Probability Weighting Function," Econometrica, Econometric Society, Econometric Society, vol. 66(3), pages 497-528, May.
  12. Traub, Stefan & Seidl, Christian & Schmidt, Ulrich & Levati, Maria Vittoria, 2003. "Friedman, Harsanyi, Rawls, Boulding - or Somebody Else?," Economics Working Papers 2003,03, Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel, Department of Economics.
  13. Neilson, William S & Stowe, Jill, 2002. " A Further Examination of Cumulative Prospect Theory Parameterizations," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 24(1), pages 31-46, January.
  14. Stefan Traub & Christian Seidl & Ulrich Schmidt & M. Vittoria Levati, . "Friedman, Harsanyi, Rawls, Boulding - Or Somebody Else? An Experimental Investigation of Distributive Justice," Papers on Strategic Interaction 2003-19, Max Planck Institute of Economics, Strategic Interaction Group.
  15. Kahneman, Daniel & Wakker, Peter P & Sarin, Rakesh, 1997. "Back to Bentham? Explorations of Experienced Utility," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, MIT Press, vol. 112(2), pages 375-405, May.
  16. Camerer, Colin F & Ho, Teck-Hua, 1994. "Violations of the Betweenness Axiom and Nonlinearity in Probability," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 8(2), pages 167-96, March.
  17. Epstein, Larry G & Segal, Uzi, 1992. "Quadratic Social Welfare Functions," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(4), pages 691-712, August.
  18. John C. Harsanyi, 1953. "Cardinal Utility in Welfare Economics and in the Theory of Risk-taking," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 61, pages 434.
  19. Tversky, Amos & Kahneman, Daniel, 1992. " Advances in Prospect Theory: Cumulative Representation of Uncertainty," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 5(4), pages 297-323, October.
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