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The Historical Perspective of the Problem of Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility

Listed author(s):
  • Drakopoulos, Stavros A.

The starting-point of the article is the inconsistency between the established practice of acceptance in many cases, of economic policy (i.e. progressive taxation, national insurance policies) and the theoretical rejection of interpersonal comparisons of utility who see it as an unscientific value judgement. The inconsistency is explained by identifying three groups of theorists: (1) those who thought of comparability as a value judgement and unacceptable for economic policy considerations (positivists), (2) those who agreed with the positivists, on the normative nature of comparability but accepted it as a basis for economic policy, and (3) those who thought of it as part of a scientific economics. The implication was that, despite the dominance of positivist methodology in other sub-fields, the historical experience points to the difficulty of applying positivist methodology to the issue of comparability. If the inconsistency is thus due to the inappropriateness of the positivist approach, the only possible solution is the explicit abandonment of this approach at least in matters related to the collective aspects of economics.

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Paper provided by University Library of Munich, Germany in its series MPRA Paper with number 28996.

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Date of creation: 1989
Publication status: Published in Journal of Economic Studies 4.16(1989): pp. 35-51
Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:28996
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  1. Dan Usher, 1973. "The Measurement of Economic Growth," Working Papers 145, Queen's University, Department of Economics.
  2. John C. Harsanyi, 1955. "Cardinal Welfare, Individualistic Ethics, and Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 63, pages 309-309.
  3. Simon, Julian L, 1974. "Interpersonal Welfare Comparisons Can be Made-and Used for Redistribution Decisions," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 27(1), pages 63-98.
  4. George J. Stigler, 1950. "The Development of Utility Theory. II," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 58, pages 373-373.
  5. Hammond, Peter J., 1977. "Dual interpersonal comparisons of utility and the welfare economics of income distribution," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 7(1), pages 51-71, February.
  6. Cooter, Robert & Rappoport, Peter, 1984. "Were the Ordinalists Wrong about Welfare Economics?," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 22(2), pages 507-530, June.
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