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Rank-discounting as a resolution to a dilemma in population ethics

Geir Asheim () and Stéphane Zuber

Documents de travail du Centre d'Economie de la Sorbonne from Université Panthéon-Sorbonne (Paris 1), Centre d'Economie de la Sorbonne

Abstract: When evaluating well-being distributions in an anonymous (and replication invariant) manner, one faces a dilemma between (i) assigning dictatorship to a single worst-off person, thus succumbing to a tyranny of non-aggregation and (ii) assigning dictatorship to (unboundedly) many better-off persons, thus succumbing to a tyranny of aggregation. We show how this corresponds to a population-ethical dilemma in the variable population setting between, on the one hand, a reversed repugnant conclusion (preferring a very small population with high well-being) and, on the other hand, a repugnant conclusion (preferring a sufficiently large population with lives barely worth living to a population with good lives) or very sadistic conclusion (not preferring a large population with lives worth living to a population with terrible lives). The dilemma can be resolved by relaxing replication invariance and thus allowing that evaluation in the fixed population setting might change with population size even though the relative distributions of well-being remain unchanged. Rank-dependent criteria are evaluation criteria that resolve this dilemma but fails replication invariance. We provide conditions under which rank-dependent criteria are the only way our of the dilemma. Furthermore, we discuss the following perspective of the relaxation of replication invariance: It becomes important to associate with the notion of total population not the people that are alive at any one time, but the people that will ever live

Keywords: Social evaluation; population ethics; rank-dependent welfare (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: D63 D71 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2017-07
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Working Paper: Rank-discounting as a resolution to a dilemma in population ethics (2018) Downloads
Working Paper: Rank-discounting as a resolution to a dilemma in population ethics (2018) Downloads
Working Paper: Rank-discounting as a resolution to a dilemma in population ethics (2018) Downloads
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