Utilitarianism, Voting and the Redistribution of Income

Utilitarianism can be misplaced or ambiguous. As a prescription for individual behaviour, the injunction to seek the greatest good for the greatest number is misplaced because there remains a domain of life where, within the bounds of law and custom, one is free to act as selfishly or as altruistically as one pleases. As a criterion for responsible government, it is ambiguous because there is no universally-recognized perception of the greatest good; people have different perceptions which can only be reconciled by compromise or by voting. The greatest number must be of citizens alive today, but governments may be vicariously concerned about people in other countries or yet to be born, in so far as citizens today have such concerns and are prepared to sacrifice for the benefit of others. The greatest good for the greatest number has no rival as a criterion for government, but it is vague nonetheless. Utilitarian ambiguity is inherited in any attempt to combine the ordinary measure of economic growth with changes in the distribution of income on a common scale.


Issue Date:
2017-07
Publication Type:
Working or Discussion Paper
DOI and Other Identifiers:
Record Identifier:
https://ageconsearch.umn.edu/record/274711
Language:
English
Total Pages:
38
JEL Codes:
E31; E32; O40
Series Statement:
Working Paper No. 1385




 Record created 2018-06-29, last modified 2020-10-28

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