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Accidents of Birth, Life Chances and the Impartial Observer

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  • Simon Grant
  • Atsushi Kajii
  • Ben Polak

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Simon Grant & Atsushi Kajii & Ben Polak, 2003. "Accidents of Birth, Life Chances and the Impartial Observer," ISER Discussion Paper 0582, Institute of Social and Economic Research, Osaka University.
  • Handle: RePEc:dpr:wpaper:0582
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Segal, Uzi, 1990. "Two-Stage Lotteries without the Reduction Axiom," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 58(2), pages 349-377, March.
    2. Edi Karni & Zvi Safra, 2002. "Individual Sense of Justice: A Utility Representation," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 70(1), pages 263-284, January.
    3. Myerson, Roger B, 1981. "Utilitarianism, Egalitarianism, and the Timing Effect in Social Choice Problems," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 49(4), pages 883-897, June.
    4. Edi Karni & John A. Weymark, 1998. "An informationally parsimonious impartial observer theorem," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 15(3), pages 321-332.
    5. 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.
    6. Sen, Amartya K, 1977. "On Weights and Measures: Informational Constraints in Social Welfare Analysis," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 45(7), pages 1539-1572, October.
    7. Grant, Simon & Kajii, Atsushi & Polak, Ben, 1998. "Intrinsic Preference for Information," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 83(2), pages 233-259, December.
    8. Atkinson, Anthony B., 1970. "On the measurement of inequality," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 2(3), pages 244-263, September.
    9. Edi Karni, 1996. "Social welfare functions and fairness," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 13(4), pages 487-496.
    10. 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.
    11. repec:ubc:bricol:90-03 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. 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.
    13. 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 765-765.
    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 434-434.
    15. Eichberger, Jurgen & Pethig, Rudiger, 1994. "Constitutional choice of rules," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 10(2), pages 311-337, July.
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