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Reversal Of Misfortune When Providing For Adversity


  • Martin McGuire
  • Gary Becker


Often an economic agent dissatisfied with an endowed distribution of utilities desires to optimize this distribution by transferring income or resources across individuals or states of the world. This multi-state optimization theme recurs in a wide variety of economic contexts, ranging across taxation and income distribution, international trade and market disruption, labor contracts and unemployment insurance, Rawlsian design of social contracts, provision for retirement, and many others. Because analyses of such topics are frequently so context driven, the generality of this theme seems to have gone unnoticed and, of a particular paradoxical result, unappreciated. One example of this paradox is how lump-sum distribution in a first best environment will reverse the preference rankings of the endowed distribution of utilities - after redistribution the originally 'bad' outcomes become preferred to originally better ones. Or as another example, if fair insurance is available, the rational resource owner will buy so much insurance that the otherwise 'bad' contingency becomes preferred. This paper examines the underlying structure common to such contexts.

Suggested Citation

  • Martin McGuire & Gary Becker, 2006. "Reversal Of Misfortune When Providing For Adversity," Defence and Peace Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 17(6), pages 619-643.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:defpea:v:17:y:2006:i:6:p:619-643
    DOI: 10.1080/10242690601025559

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Hirshleifer, Jack, 1987. "Economic Behaviour in Adversity," University of Chicago Press Economics Books, University of Chicago Press, number 9780226342825.
    2. Shavell, Steven & Weiss, Laurence, 1979. "The Optimal Payment of Unemployment Insurance Benefits over Time," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(6), pages 1347-1362, December.
    3. J. Hirshleifer, 1966. "Investment Decision Under Uncertainty: Applications of the State-Preference Approach," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 80(2), pages 252-277.
    4. Ehrlich, Isaac & Becker, Gary S, 1972. "Market Insurance, Self-Insurance, and Self-Protection," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 80(4), pages 623-648, July-Aug..
    5. J. A. Mirrlees, 1971. "An Exploration in the Theory of Optimum Income Taxation," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 38(2), pages 175-208.
    6. McGuire, Martin C & Pratt, John & Zeckhauser, Richard, 1991. "Paying to Improve Your Chances: Gambling or Insurance?," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 4(4), pages 329-338, December.
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