A Liberal Theory of Social Welfare: Fairness, Utility, and the Pareto Principle

Posted: 5 Oct 2000

See all articles by Howard F. Chang

Howard F. Chang

University of Pennsylvania Law School

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper


Amartya Sen has shown how liberal rights can produce outcomes that everyone would prefer to avoid, thereby violating the Pareto principle. Similarly, Louis Kaplow and Steven Shavell identify potential conflicts between the Pareto principle and notions of "fairness," which give weight to considerations other than the overall utility level of each individual. Whereas Sen claims that the conflict he identifies shows the unacceptability of the Pareto principle as a universal rule, Kaplow and Shavell claim that the conflict they identify suggests a critique of all fairness notions (including liberal rights). I will argue in this paper that both claims are based on questionable assumptions. This paper proposes a middle course that I will argue resolves the supposed conflicts while remaining faithful to both liberal fairness principles and the Pareto principle. This paper will present an example of a social welfare function that can incorporate fairness principles and still remain faithful to the Pareto principle.

JEL Classification: K00, D60, D63

Suggested Citation

Chang, Howard F., A Liberal Theory of Social Welfare: Fairness, Utility, and the Pareto Principle. Yale Law Journal, Vol. 110, pp. 173-235, November 2000. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=228772

Howard F. Chang (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States
215-573-8296 (Phone)
215-573-2025 (Fax)

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics