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Social Choice Theory and the Informational Basis Approach

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For over a quarter of a century, the use of utility information based upon interpersonal comparisons has been seen as an escape route from the Arrow Impossibility Theorem. This paper critically examines this informational basis approach to social choice. Even with comparability of differences and levels, feasible social choice rules must be insensitive to a range of distributional issues. Also, the Pareto principle is not solely to blame for the inability to adopt rules combining utility and non-utility information: if the Pareto principle is not invoked then there is no way of combining utility and non-utility information in a ranking of states unless levels of utility are comparable; with only level comparability, information must be combined in restrictive ways and the notion of giving different independent weight to different considerations is ruled out. If informational bases are viewed as the restriction on information that is available, rather than a theoretical limit on information, then there exist methods to estimate richer informational structures and overcome some of these difficulties.

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File URL: http://www.nuffield.ox.ac.uk/economics/papers/2005/W23/socialchoicetheorykevin.pdf
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Paper provided by Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford in its series Economics Papers with number 2005-W23.

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Length: 27 pages
Date of creation: 01 Aug 2005
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:nuf:econwp:0523

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Web page: http://www.nuff.ox.ac.uk/economics/

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  1. Parks, Robert P, 1976. "An Impossibility Theorem for Fixed Preferences: A Dictatorial Bergson-Samuelson Welfare Function," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 43(3), pages 447-50, October.
  2. Amartya Sen, 1999. "The Possibility of Social Choice," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(3), pages 349-378, June.
  3. Sen, Amartya K, 1979. "Personal Utilities and Public Judgements: Or What's Wrong with Welfare Economics?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 89(355), pages 537-58, September.
  4. Deschamps, Robert & Gevers, Louis, 1978. "Leximin and utilitarian rules: A joint characterization," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 143-163, April.
  5. Sen, Amartya & Pattanaik, Prasanta K., 1969. "Necessary and sufficient conditions for rational choice under majority decision," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 1(2), pages 178-202, August.
  6. Sen, Amartya, 1970. "Interpersonal Aggregation and Partial Comparability," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 38(3), pages 393-409, May.
  7. Gevers, Louis, 1979. "On Interpersonal Comparability and Social Welfare Orderings," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(1), pages 75-89, January.
  8. Basu, Kaushik, 1983. "Cardinal utility, utilitarianism, and a class of invariance axioms in welfare analysis," Journal of Mathematical Economics, Elsevier, vol. 12(3), pages 193-206, December.
  9. Roberts, Kevin W S, 1980. "Possibility Theorems with Interpersonally Comparable Welfare Levels," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 47(2), pages 409-20, January.
  10. Marc Fleurbaey, 2003. "On the informational basis of social choice," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer, vol. 21(2), pages 347-384, October.
  11. Sen, Amartya K, 1977. "On Weights and Measures: Informational Constraints in Social Welfare Analysis," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 45(7), pages 1539-72, October.
  12. Hammond, Peter J, 1976. "Equity, Arrow's Conditions, and Rawls' Difference Principle," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 44(4), pages 793-804, July.
  13. Roberts, Kevin W S, 1980. "Interpersonal Comparability and Social Choice Theory," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 47(2), pages 421-39, January.
  14. Wilson, Robert, 1972. "Social choice theory without the Pareto Principle," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 5(3), pages 478-486, December.
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