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A Welfarist Critique of Social Choice Theory


  • Aki Lehtinen

    () (University of Helsinki, Finland)


This paper reconsiders the discussion on ordinal utilities versus preference intensities in voting theory. It is shown by way of an example that arguments concerning observability and risk-attitudes that have been presented in favour of Arrow's Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives (IIA), and against utilitarian evaluation, fail due to strategic voting. The failure of these two arguments is then used to justify utilitarian evaluation of outcomes in voting. Given a utilitarian viewpoint, it is then argued that strategy-proofness is not normatively acceptable. Social choice theory is criticised not just by showing that some of its most important conditions are not normatively acceptable, but also by showing that the very idea of imposing condition on social choice function under the assumption of sincere behaviour does not make much sense because satisfying a condition does not quarantee that a voting rule actually has the properties that the condition confers to it under sincere behaviour. IIA, the binary intensity IIA, and monotonicity are used as illustrations of this phenomenon.

Suggested Citation

  • Aki Lehtinen, 2011. "A Welfarist Critique of Social Choice Theory," Journal of Theoretical Politics, , vol. 23(3), pages 359-381, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:jothpo:v:23:y:2011:i:3:p:359-381

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Crès, Hervé & Tvede, Mich, 2009. "Production in incomplete markets: Expectations matter for political stability," Journal of Mathematical Economics, Elsevier, vol. 45(3-4), pages 212-222, March.
    2. Greenberg, Joseph, 1979. "Consistent Majority Rules over Compact Sets of Alternatives," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(3), pages 627-636, May.
    3. repec:spo:wpecon:info:hdl:2441/10281 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Caplin, Andrew & Nalebuff, Barry, 1991. "Aggregation and Social Choice: A Mean Voter Theorem," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 59(1), pages 1-23, January.
    5. Anthony Downs, 1957. "An Economic Theory of Political Action in a Democracy," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 65, pages 135-135.
    6. Ferejohn, John A. & Grether, David M., 1974. "On a class of rational social decision procedures," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 8(4), pages 471-482, August.
    7. Caplin, Andrew S & Nalebuff, Barry J, 1988. "On 64%-Majority Rule," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 56(4), pages 787-814, July.
    8. Hervé Crès & Mich Tvede, 2005. "Portfolio Diversification and Internalization of Production Externalities through Majority Voting," Sciences Po publications 816/2005, Sciences Po.
    9. Hervé Crès & Mich Tvede, 2005. "Portfolio Diversification and Internalization of Production Externalities through Majority Voting," Working Papers hal-00587205, HAL.
    10. Grandmont, Jean-Michel, 1978. "Intermediate Preferences and the Majority Rule," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 46(2), pages 317-330, March.
    11. Hervé Crès & Mich Tvede, 2005. "Portfolio Diversification and Internalization of Production Externalities through Majority Voting," Working Papers hal-01065579, HAL.
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    Cited by:

    1. Philippe Mongin, 2012. "The doctrinal paradox, the discursive dilemma, and logical aggregation theory," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 73(3), pages 315-355, September.


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