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Interpersonal level comparability implies comparability of utility differences


  • Yew-Kwang Ng


It is generally believed that the possibility of making interpersonal comparisons of utility levels (as required, e.g.,in applying the Rawlsian maximin criterion) does not require interpersonal comparison of utility differences (which involve cardinal utilities). Thus, if we are confined to level comparability, it is believed that no cardinal utility need be involved. Here, I wish to show that, with some very general conditions, the general possibility of interpersonal comparison of utility levels implies interpersonal comparison of utility differences (or unit comparability, with suitablescaling). Thus,the sufficiency of ordinalism is a mistaken belief.

Suggested Citation

  • Yew-Kwang Ng, 1984. "Interpersonal level comparability implies comparability of utility differences," Monash Economics Working Papers archive-20, Monash University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:mos:moswps:archive-20

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Yew-Kwang Ng, 2017. "Towards a Theory of Third-Best," Pacific Economic Review, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 22(2), pages 155-166, May.
    2. Martin Feldstein, 1999. "Tax Avoidance And The Deadweight Loss Of The Income Tax," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 81(4), pages 674-680, November.
    3. Ng, Yew-Kwang, 1975. "Non-Economic Activities, Indirect Externalities, and Third-Best Politics," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 28(3), pages 507-525.
    4. Ng, Yew-Kwang, 1987. "Diamonds Are a Government's Best Friend: Burden-Free Taxes on Goods Valued for Their Values," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(1), pages 186-191, March.
    5. Ballard, Charles L & Shoven, John B & Whalley, John, 1985. "General Equilibrium Computations of the Marginal Welfare Costs of Taxes in the United States," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(1), pages 128-138, March.
    6. Ng, Yew-Kwang, 1987. "Relative-Income Effects and the Appropriate Level of Public Expenditure," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 39(2), pages 293-300, June.
    7. Ng, Yew-Kwang & Wang, Jianguo, 1993. "Relative income, aspiration, environmental quality, individual and political myopia : Why may the rat-race for material growth be welfare-reducing?," Mathematical Social Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 26(1), pages 3-23, July.
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    Cited by:

    1. Louis Kaplow, 2008. "Optimal Policy with Heterogeneous Preferences," NBER Working Papers 14170, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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