Autonomy, Welfare, and the Pareto Principle

44 Pages Posted: 8 Feb 2014 Last revised: 25 Aug 2014

See all articles by Daniel A. Farber

Daniel A. Farber

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law

Date Written: February 8, 2014


The Pareto principle has great intuitive appeal, but poses perplexities on closer examination. What exactly do we mean by “preferences”? Should the principle apply ex post or ex ante? Does it uphold individual autonomy, individual welfare, or both?

This essay argues that the Pareto principle is best understood, in utilitarian terms, as connecting social welfare with an objective appraisal of individual welfare. Indeed, with only modest additional assumptions, the Pareto principle implies a utilitarian social welfare function. It is much more difficult to link Pareto with autonomy norms for several reasons, including not only Sen’s paradox but a bevy of other difficulties.

Keywords: welfare economics, Pareto principle, utilitarianism, paternalism, libertarianism

JEL Classification: A16, D60, D63, D70, D71

Suggested Citation

Farber, Daniel A., Autonomy, Welfare, and the Pareto Principle (February 8, 2014). UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper No. 2392859. Available at SSRN: or

Daniel A. Farber (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law ( email )

Boalt Hall
Room 894
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States
510-642-0340 (Phone)
510-642-3728 (Fax)

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics