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The news of the death of welfare economics is greatly exaggerated

  • Marc Fleurbaey


  • Philippe Mongin


The paper reexamines the controversy about Bergson-Samuelson social welfare functions (BSFs) that took place between welfare economists and social choice theorists as a consequence of Arrow's (1951) impossibility theorem. The 1970's witnessed a new version of the theorem that was meant to establish that BSFs "make interpersonal comparisons of utility or are dictatorial". Against this, Samuelson reasserted the existence of well-behaved "ordinalist" BSFs and generally denied the relevance of Arrovian impossibilities to welfare economics. The paper formalizes and reassesses each camp's arguments. While being also critical of Samuelson's, it eventually endorses his conclusion that welfare economics was left untouched by the controversy. It draws some connections of BSFs with contemporary normative economics.

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Article provided by Springer in its journal Social Choice and Welfare.

Volume (Year): 25 (2005)
Issue (Month): 2 (December)
Pages: 381-418

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Handle: RePEc:spr:sochwe:v:25:y:2005:i:2:p:381-418
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  1. Mayston, David J., 1982. "The generation of a social welfare function under ordinal preferences," Mathematical Social Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 3(2), pages 109-129, September.
  2. I. M. D. Little, 1952. "Social Choice and Individual Values," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 60, pages 422.
  3. repec:oup:restud:v:73:y:2006:i:1:p:55-83 is not listed on IDEAS
  4. Nicolas Gravel, 2001. "On the difficulty of combining actual and potential criteria for an increase in social welfare," Economic Theory, Springer, vol. 17(1), pages 163-180.
  5. Marc Fleurbaey, 2003. "On the informational basis of social choice," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer, vol. 21(2), pages 347-384, October.
  6. P. Mongin, 1999. "Normes et jugements de valeur en économie normative," THEMA Working Papers 99-20, THEMA (THéorie Economique, Modélisation et Applications), Université de Cergy-Pontoise.
  7. Kemp, Murray C & Ng, Yew-Kwang, 1977. "More on Social Welfare Functions: The Incompatibility of Individualism and Ordinalism," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 44(173), pages 89-90, February.
  8. Amartya K. Sen, 1971. "Choice Functions and Revealed Preference," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 38(3), pages 307-317.
  9. M. Fleurbaey & F. Maniquet, 2008. "Fair social orderings," Economic Theory, Springer, vol. 34(1), pages 25-45, January.
  10. Sen, Amartya K, 1977. "On Weights and Measures: Informational Constraints in Social Welfare Analysis," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 45(7), pages 1539-72, October.
  11. Mongin, P., 1998. "Does Optimization Imply Rationality?," Papers 9817, Paris X - Nanterre, U.F.R. de Sc. Ec. Gest. Maths Infor..
  12. Little, I. M. D., 1999. "Collection and Recollections: Economic Papers and their Provenance," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198295242, July.
  13. Kemp, Murray C. & Ng, Yew-Kwang, 1982. "The incompatibility of individualism and ordinalism," Mathematical Social Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 3(1), pages 33-37, July.
  14. Atkinson, Anthony B, 2001. "The Strange Disappearance of Welfare Economics," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 54(2-3), pages 193-206.
  15. Kemp, Murray C & Ng, Yew-Kwang, 1976. "On the Existence of Social Welfare Functions, Social Orderings and Social Decision Functions," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 43(169), pages 59-66, February.
  16. Marc Fleurbaey & Fran�Ois Maniquet, 2007. "Help the Low Skilled or Let the Hardworking Thrive? A Study of Fairness in Optimal Income Taxation," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 9(3), pages 467-500, 06.
  17. Robert P. Parks, 1976. "An Impossibility Theorem for Fixed Preferences: A Dictatorial Bergson-Samuelson Welfare Function," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 43(3), pages 447-450.
  18. Philippe Mongin, 2002. "Is there progress in normative economics?," Chapters, in: Is There Progress in Economics?, chapter 10 Edward Elgar.
  19. Suzumura, Kotaro, 2001. "Pareto principles from Inch to Ell," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 70(1), pages 95-98, January.
  20. Blackorby, Charles & Donaldson, David & Weymark, John A, 1984. "Social Choice with Interpersonal Utility Comparisons: A Diagrammatic Introduction," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 25(2), pages 327-56, June.
  21. Stephan Boehm & Christian Gehrke & Heinz D. Kurz & Richard Sturn (ed.), 2002. "Is There Progress in Economics?," Books, Edward Elgar, number 2403.
  22. Elisha A. Pazner & David Schmeidler, 1978. "Egalitarian Equivalent Allocations: A New Concept of Economic Equity," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 92(4), pages 671-687.
  23. Robert A. Pollak, 1979. "Bergson-Samuelson Social Welfare Functions and the Theory of Social Choice," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 93(1), pages 73-90.
  24. Marc Fleurbaey & Francois Maniquet, 2002. "Fair Income Tax," Economics Working Papers 0021, Institute for Advanced Study, School of Social Science.
  25. Kevin W. S. Roberts, 1980. "Social Choice Theory: The Single-profile and Multi-profile Approaches," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 47(2), pages 441-450.
  26. Suzumura Kotaro, 1998. "Paretian Welfare Judgements and Bergsonian Social Choice," Discussion Paper Series a341, Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University.
  27. Georges Bordes & Peter J. Hammond & Michel Le Breton, 2005. "Social Welfare Functionals on Restricted Domains and in Economic Environments," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 7(1), pages 1-25, 02.
  28. Weymark, John A., 1998. "Welfarism on economic domains1," Mathematical Social Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 36(3), pages 251-268, December.
  29. Kemp, Murray C. & Ng, Yew-Kwang, 1983. "Individualistic social welfare functions under ordinalism: a reply to Mayston," Mathematical Social Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 4(3), pages 305-307, July.
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