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Accidents of Birth, Life Chances and the Impartial Observer

  • Simon Grant
  • Atsushi Kajii
  • Ben Polak

We confront two common objections to Harsanyi's impartial observer theorem; one to do with 'fairness', and the other to do with different individuals' having different attitudes toward risk. Both these objections can be accommodated if we drop the reduction axiom; in particular, if we distinguish beween 'accidents of birth' and real-world 'life chances'. We do not drop the independence axiom that has often been seen as the source of these problems. Just as Harsanyi's theorem yields a utilitarian form of social welfare function, so our approach axiomatizes a generalized utilitarian form. If in addition, welfare is cardinally measurable, then we can interpret the shape of our generalized utilitarian functional form in terms of attitudes toward risk and toward interim inequality.

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Paper provided by Institute of Social and Economic Research, Osaka University in its series ISER Discussion Paper with number 0582.

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Date of creation: May 2003
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Handle: RePEc:dpr:wpaper:0582
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  1. Karni, Edi & Safra, Zvi, 2000. "An extension of a theorem of von Neumann and Morgenstern with an application to social choice theory," Journal of Mathematical Economics, Elsevier, vol. 34(3), pages 315-327, November.
  2. Edi Karni & John A. Weymark, 1998. "An informationally parsimonious impartial observer theorem," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer, vol. 15(3), pages 321-332.
  3. repec:ubc:bricol:90-03 is not listed on IDEAS
  4. Uzi Segal, 2000. "Let's Agree That All Dictatorships Are Equally Bad," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 108(3), pages 569-589, June.
  5. Grant, S & Kajii, A & Polak, B, 1997. "Intrinsic Preference for Information," Papers 323, Australian National University - Department of Economics.
  6. Uzi Segal, 1989. "Two-Stage Lotteries Without the Reduction Axiom," UCLA Economics Working Papers 552, UCLA Department of Economics.
  7. Peter A. Diamond, 1967. "Cardinal Welfare, Individualistic Ethics, and Interpersonal Comparison of Utility: Comment," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 75, pages 765.
  8. Sen, Amartya K, 1977. "On Weights and Measures: Informational Constraints in Social Welfare Analysis," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 45(7), pages 1539-72, October.
  9. Eichberger, Jurgen & Pethig, Rudiger, 1994. "Constitutional choice of rules," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 10(2), pages 311-337, July.
  10. Edi Karni & Zvi Safra, 2002. "Individual Sense of Justice: A Utility Representation," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 70(1), pages 263-284, January.
  11. Atkinson, Anthony B., 1970. "On the measurement of inequality," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 2(3), pages 244-263, September.
  12. Edi Karni, 1996. "Social welfare functions and fairness," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer, vol. 13(4), pages 487-496.
  13. Epstein, Larry G & Segal, Uzi, 1992. "Quadratic Social Welfare Functions," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(4), pages 691-712, August.
  14. John C. Harsanyi, 1953. "Cardinal Utility in Welfare Economics and in the Theory of Risk-taking," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 61, pages 434.
  15. Myerson, Roger B, 1981. "Utilitarianism, Egalitarianism, and the Timing Effect in Social Choice Problems," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 49(4), pages 883-97, June.
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