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Rank-discounting as a resolution to a dilemma in population ethics

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When evaluating well-being distributions in an anonymous (and replication invariant) manner, one faces a dilemma between (i) assigning dictatorship to a single worst-off person, thus succumbing to a tyranny of non-aggregation and (ii) assigning dictatorship to (unboundedly) many better-off persons, thus succumbing to a tyranny of aggregation. We show this corresponds to a population-ethical dilemma in the variable population setting between, on the one hand, a reversed repugnant conclusion (preferring a very small population with high well-being) and, on the other hand, a repugnant conclusion (preferring a sufficiently large population with lives barely worth living to a population with good lives) or very sadistic conclusion (not preferring a large population with lives worth living to a population with terrible lives). The dilemma can be resolved by relaxing replication invariance and thus allowing that evaluation in the fixed population setting might change with population size even though the relative distributions of well-being remain unchanged. Rank-dependent criteria are evaluation criteria that resolve this dilemma but fails replication invariance. We provide conditions under which rank-dependent criteria are the only way out of the dilemma. Furthermore, we discuss the following consequence of relaxing replication invariance: It becomes essential to take into account the existence and utility of non-affected people when evaluating population policies with limited scope

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  • Geir B. Asheim & Stéphane Zuber, 2017. "Rank-discounting as a resolution to a dilemma in population ethics," Documents de travail du Centre d'Economie de la Sorbonne 17041r, Université Panthéon-Sorbonne (Paris 1), Centre d'Economie de la Sorbonne, revised Nov 2018.
  • Handle: RePEc:mse:cesdoc:17041r
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    1. Blackorby,Charles & Bossert,Walter & Donaldson,David J., 2005. "Population Issues in Social Choice Theory, Welfare Economics, and Ethics," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521825511, December.
    2. Arrhenius, Gustaf, 2000. "An Impossibility Theorem for Welfarist Axiologies," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 16(02), pages 247-266, October.
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    4. Stéphane Zuber, 2017. "Éthique de la population : l’apport des critères de bien-être dépendant du rang," Revue économique, Presses de Sciences-Po, vol. 68(1), pages 73-96.
    5. Asheim, Geir B. & Zuber, Stéphane, 2014. "Escaping the repugnant conclusion: rank-discounted utilitarianism with variable population," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 9(3), September.
    6. Bossert, Walter, 1990. "An axiomatization of the single-series Ginis," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 50(1), pages 82-92, February.
    7. Alain Chateauneuf & Michéle Cohen & Isaac Meilijson, 2005. "More pessimism than greediness: a characterization of monotone risk aversion in the rank-dependent expected utility model," Economic Theory, Springer;Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory (SAET), vol. 25(3), pages 649-667, April.
    8. Marc Fleurbaey & Bertil Tungodden, 2010. "The tyranny of non-aggregation versus the tyranny of aggregation in social choices: a real dilemma," Economic Theory, Springer;Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory (SAET), vol. 44(3), pages 399-414, September.
    9. Broome, John, 2006. "Weighing Lives," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199297702.
    10. Blackorby,Charles & Bossert,Walter & Donaldson,David J., 2005. "Population Issues in Social Choice Theory, Welfare Economics, and Ethics," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521532587, December.
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    JEL classification:

    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • D71 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Social Choice; Clubs; Committees; Associations

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