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Social Choice Theory and the Informational Basis Approach

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  • Kevin Roberts

Abstract

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 level comparability, information can be combined only 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 these difficulties.

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Paper provided by University of Oxford, Department of Economics in its series Economics Series Working Papers with number 247.

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Date of creation: 01 Oct 2005
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Handle: RePEc:oxf:wpaper:247

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Keywords: Social Choice; Informational Bases; Interpersonal Comparisons; Non-utility Information;

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  1. Sen, Amartya K, 1977. "On Weights and Measures: Informational Constraints in Social Welfare Analysis," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 45(7), pages 1539-72, October.
  2. 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.
  3. Deschamps, Robert & Gevers, Louis, 1978. "Leximin and utilitarian rules: A joint characterization," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 143-163, April.
  4. Roberts, Kevin W S, 1980. "Interpersonal Comparability and Social Choice Theory," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 47(2), pages 421-39, January.
  5. Roberts, Kevin W S, 1980. "Social Choice Theory: The Single-profile and Multi-profile Approaches," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 47(2), pages 441-50, January.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Wilson, Robert, 1972. "Social choice theory without the Pareto Principle," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 5(3), pages 478-486, December.
  9. 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.
  10. Sen, Amartya, 1970. "Interpersonal Aggregation and Partial Comparability," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 38(3), pages 393-409, May.
  11. Gevers, Louis, 1979. "On Interpersonal Comparability and Social Welfare Orderings," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(1), pages 75-89, January.
  12. Marc Fleurbaey, 2003. "On the informational basis of social choice," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer, vol. 21(2), pages 347-384, October.
  13. Amartya Sen, 1999. "The Possibility of Social Choice," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(3), pages 349-378, June.
  14. Hammond, Peter J, 1976. "Equity, Arrow's Conditions, and Rawls' Difference Principle," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 44(4), pages 793-804, July.
  15. BASU, Kaushik, . "Cardinal utility, utilitarianism, and a class of invariance axioms in welfare analysis," CORE Discussion Papers RP -580, Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE).
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