Fairness Versus Welfare: Notes on the Pareto Principle, Preferences, and Distributive Justice

28 Pages Posted: 11 Apr 2003  

Louis Kaplow

Harvard Law School; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Steven Shavell

Harvard Law School; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Date Written: April 2003

Abstract

In Fairness versus Welfare, we advance the thesis that social policies should be assessed based entirely on their effects on individuals' well-being. This thesis implies that no independent weight should be accorded to notions of fairness (other than many purely distributive notions). We support our thesis in three ways: by demonstrating how notions of fairness perversely reduce welfare, indeed, sometimes everyone's well-being; by revealing numerous other deficiencies in the notions, including their lack of sound rationales; and by providing an account of notions of fairness that explains their intuitive appeal in a manner that reinforces the conclusion that they should not be treated as independent principles in policy assessment. In this essay, we discuss these three themes and comment on issues raised by Richard Craswell, Lewis Kornhauser, and Jeremy Waldron.

Suggested Citation

Kaplow, Louis and Shavell, Steven, Fairness Versus Welfare: Notes on the Pareto Principle, Preferences, and Distributive Justice (April 2003). NBER Working Paper No. w9622. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=394730

Louis Kaplow (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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United States

Steven Shavell

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard Law School ( email )

1575 Massachusetts
Hauser 406
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-3668 (Phone)
617-496-2256 (Fax)

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