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The tyranny puzzle in social preferences: an empirical investigation

Cowell, Frank A., Fleurbaey, Marc and Tungodden, Bertil (2015) The tyranny puzzle in social preferences: an empirical investigation. Social Choice and Welfare, 45 (4). pp. 765-792. ISSN 0176-1714

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Identification Number: 10.1007/s00355-015-0880-9


When forming their preferences about the distribution of income, rational people may be caught between two opposite forms of “tyranny.” Giving absolute priority to the worst-off imposes a sort of tyranny on the rest of the population, but giving less than absolute priority imposes a reverse form of tyranny where the worst-off may be sacrificed for the sake of small benefits to many well-off individuals. We formally show that this intriguing dilemma is more severe than previously recognised, and we examine how people negotiate such conflicts with a questionnaire-experimental study. Our study shows that both tyrannies are rejected by a majority of the participants, which makes it problematic for them to define consistent distributive preferences on the distribution.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015
Divisions: Economics
Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HA Statistics
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
Date Deposited: 21 Apr 2015 13:39
Last Modified: 20 Sep 2021 00:57

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