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Optimal Inequality behind the Veil of Ignorance

  • Liang, Che-Yuan


    (Department of Economics)

In Rawls’ (1971) influential social contract approach to distributive justice, the fair income distribution is the one that an individual would choose behind a veil of ignorance. Harsanyi (1953, 1955, 1975) treats this situation as a decision under risk and arrives at utilitarianism using expected utility theory. This paper investigates the implications of applying prospect theory instead, which better describes behavior under risk. I find that the specific type of inequality in bottom-heavy right-skewed income distributions, which includes the log-normal income distribution, could be socially desirable. The optimal inequality result contrasts the implications of other social welfare criteria.

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Paper provided by Uppsala University, Department of Economics in its series Working Paper Series with number 2013:7.

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Length: 26 pages
Date of creation: 29 Apr 2013
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:hhs:uunewp:2013_007
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Department of Economics, Uppsala University, P. O. Box 513, SE-751 20 Uppsala, Sweden

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  1. Tversky, Amos & Kahneman, Daniel, 1992. "Advances in Prospect Theory: Cumulative Representation of Uncertainty," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 5(4), pages 297-323, October.
  2. Erich Battistin & Richard Blundell & Arthur Lewbel, 2007. "Why is Consumption More Log Normal Than Income? Gibrat's Law Revisited," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 671, Boston College Department of Economics.
  3. Botond Kőszegi & Matthew Rabin, 2006. "A Model of Reference-Dependent Preferences," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 121(4), pages 1133-1165.
  4. Stefan Traub & Christian Seidl & Ulrich Schmidt & M. Vittoria Levati, . "Friedman, Harsanyi, Rawls, Boulding - Or Somebody Else? An Experimental Investigation of Distributive Justice," Papers on Strategic Interaction 2003-19, Max Planck Institute of Economics, Strategic Interaction Group.
  5. Yoram Amiel & Frank Cowell & W Gaertner, 2006. "To be or not to be involved: a questionnaire-experimental view on Harsanyi's utilitarian ethics," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 2687, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  6. Atkinson, Anthony B., 1970. "On the measurement of inequality," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 2(3), pages 244-263, September.
  7. B. Douglas Bernheim & Antonio Rangel, 2009. "Beyond Revealed Preference: Choice-Theoretic Foundations for Behavioral Welfare Economics," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 124(1), pages 51-104.
  8. Olof Johansson-Stenman & Fredrik Carlsson & Dinky Daruvala, 2002. "Measuring Future Grandparents" Preferences for Equality and Relative Standing," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(479), pages 362-383, April.
  9. Traub, Stefan & Seidl, Christian & Schmidt, Ulrich & Levati, Maria Vittoria, 2003. "Friedman, Harsanyi, Rawls, Boulding - or Somebody Else?," Economics Working Papers 2003,03, Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel, Department of Economics.
  10. 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.
  11. Drazen Prelec, 1998. "The Probability Weighting Function," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 66(3), pages 497-528, May.
  12. Amos Tversky & Daniel Kahneman, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Levine's Working Paper Archive 7656, David K. Levine.
  13. John C. Harsanyi, 1955. "Cardinal Welfare, Individualistic Ethics, and Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 63, pages 309.
  14. Camerer, Colin F & Ho, Teck-Hua, 1994. "Violations of the Betweenness Axiom and Nonlinearity in Probability," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 8(2), pages 167-96, March.
  15. Mas-Colell, Andreu & Whinston, Michael D. & Green, Jerry R., 1995. "Microeconomic Theory," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195102680, December.
  16. George Wu & Richard Gonzalez, 1996. "Curvature of the Probability Weighting Function," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 42(12), pages 1676-1690, December.
  17. Neilson, William S & Stowe, Jill, 2002. "A Further Examination of Cumulative Prospect Theory Parameterizations," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 24(1), pages 31-46, January.
  18. 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.
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