Skip to main content

Distributional Objectives in Welfare Economics

  • A Note on Extreme Inequality Aversion,” Journal of Economic Theory 11 (1975), 465–467. ScienceDirect link.

  • Dual Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility and the Welfare Economics of Income Distribution,” Journal of Public Economics 7 (1977), 51–71.


    Interpersonal comparisons can be of utility levels and/or of utility differences. Comparisons of levels can be used to define equity in distributing income. Comparisons of differences can be used to construct an additive Bergson social welfare function over income distributions. When both utility levels and utility differences are compared, one can require the constructed additive Bergson social welfare function to indicate a preference for more equitable income distributions. This restricts the form of both the individual utility functions and the optimal distribution of income. The form of these restrictions depends on whether the levels and differences of the same utility functions are being compared. ScienceDirect link.

  • Dual interpersonal comparisons of utility and the welfare economics of income distribution: A Corrigendum,” Journal of Public Economics 14 (1980), 105–6 ScienceDirect link.

  • Economic Welfare with Rank Order Price Weighting,” Review of Economic Studies 45 (1978), 381–384. JSTOR link for paper

  • The Economics of Justice and the Criterion of Wealth Maximization,” Yale Law Journal 91 (1982), 1493–1507. JSTOR link for paper

  • Progress in the Theory of Social Choice and Distributive Justice,” in S. Zandvakili (ed.) Research in Economic Inequality, Vol. 7: Inequality and Taxation pp. 87–106; revised version of English original whose Italian translation was published in L. Sacconi (ed.) La decisione: Razionalità collettiva e strategie nell' amministrazione e nelle organizzazioni (Milano: Franco Angeli, 1986), ch. 3, pp. 89–106.


    By definition, “consequentialist” behaviour in finite decision trees is explicable by its consequences. Both cost–benefit tests and “consequentialist” choices of economic policy necessarily require distributional judgements. These should emerge from a social welfare objective incorporating interpersonal comparisons. To accommodate them, Arrow’s IIA condition should be weakened to independence of ethically irrelevant alternatives. When consequences are risky, dynamically consistent consequentialist behaviour on an unrestricted domain of finite decision trees entails maximizing expected social welfare. Combined with an “ethical liberalism” condition, this leads to “fundamental” utilitarianism, which requires a further weakening of IIA to independence of ethically irrelevant mixed alternatives. PDF file of preprint