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A Fairness Justification of Utilitarianism

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  • Paolo Giovanni Piacquadio

Abstract

Differences in preferences are important to explain variation in individuals' behavior. There is, however, no consensus on how to take these differences into account when evaluating policies. While prominent in the economic literature, the standard utilitarian criterion is controversial. According to some, interpersonal comparability of utilities involves value judgments with little objective basis. Others argue that social justice is primarily about the distribution of commodities assigned to individuals, rather than their subjective satisfaction or happiness. In this paper, we propose and axiomatically characterize a criterion, named opportunity‐equivalent utilitarian, that addresses these claims. First, our criterion ranks social alternatives on the basis of individuals' ordinal preferences. Second, it compares individuals based on the fairness of their assignments. Opportunity‐equivalent utilitarianism requires society to maximize the sum of specific indices of well‐being that are cardinal, interpersonally comparable, and represent each individual's preferences.

Suggested Citation

  • Paolo Giovanni Piacquadio, 2017. "A Fairness Justification of Utilitarianism," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 85, pages 1261-1276, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:wly:emetrp:v:85:y:2017:i::p:1261-1276
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    7. Pourya Valizadeh & Travis A Smith, 2020. "How Did The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Affect the Material Well‐Being of SNAP Participants? A Distributional Approach," Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 42(3), pages 455-476, September.
    8. Bosmans, Kristof & Decancq, Koen & Ooghe, Erwin, 2018. "Who's afraid of aggregating money metrics?," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 13(2), May.
    9. Kristoffer Berg & Paolo Giovanni Piacquadio, 2020. "The Equal-Sacrifice Social Welfare Function with an Application to Optimal Income Taxation," CESifo Working Paper Series 8505, CESifo.
    10. Rolf Aaberge & François Bourguignon & Andrea Brandolini & Francisco H. G. Ferreira & Janet C. Gornick & John Hills & Markus Jäntti & Stephen P. Jenkins & Eric Marlier & John Micklewright & Brian Nolan, 2017. "Tony Atkinson and his Legacy," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 63(3), pages 411-444, September.
    11. Al-Najjar, Nabil I. & Pomatto, Luciano, 2020. "Aggregate risk and the Pareto principle," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 189(C).
    12. Ian Fillmore & Trevor Gallen, 2019. "Heterogeneity in Talent or in Tastes? Implications for Redistributive Taxation," 2019 Meeting Papers 94, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    13. Daske, Thomas, 2021. "The Incentive Costs of Welfare Judgments," EconStor Preprints 230318, ZBW - Leibniz Information Centre for Economics.
    14. Itai Sher, 2021. "Generalized Social Marginal Welfare Weights Imply Inconsistent Comparisons of Tax Policies," Papers 2102.07702, arXiv.org, revised Jul 2021.
    15. Itai Sher, 2021. "Generalized Social Marginal Welfare Weights Imply Inconsistent Comparisons of Tax Policies," Working Papers 2021-009, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
    16. Breitmoser, Yves & Vorjohann, Pauline, 2018. "Welfare-Based Altruism," Rationality and Competition Discussion Paper Series 89, CRC TRR 190 Rationality and Competition.

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