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The distribution of oportunities: a normative theory

Laurence Kranich ()

UC3M Working papers. Economics from Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. Departamento de Economía

Abstract: In this paper, we consider the problem of ranking protiles of opportunity sets. First, we take each agent's preferences over (individual) opportunity sets as given. Then, rather than discriminate among possibly competing evaluative criteria, we consider minimal standards for any such ranking. We impose four normative principies, in each case limiting the conditions under which ethical conclusions might be drawn to only those cases that are unambiguous. The first three principles are subrestrictions of the Pareto criterion; they require that Pareto improvements unambiguously enhance social welfare only when they do not conflict with other social objectives. The fourth principle is a minimal equity condition. It requires that if an agent can be identified as being the worst-off, then a necessary condition for social welfare to unambiguously increase when sorne agents gain is that this agent gains as well, however slightly. We then study the properties of social optima under these restrictions. We show that while optima need not be Pareto efficient, they must be envy-free. Thus, accepting these principies requires commitment to a world in which no agent envies the opportunities available to another.

Date: 1995-04
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