Behavioural Utilitarianism and Distributive Justice

Galanis, Giorgos and Veneziani, Roberto. 2020. Behavioural Utilitarianism and Distributive Justice. Working Paper. Centre for Research in Economic Theory and its Applications (CRETA), Warwick. [Report]

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Abstract or Description

What are the distributive implications of utilitarianism? Is it compatible with a concern for equality, as many utilitarians have argued? We analyse these questions in the context of a pure allocation problem. We consider an infinitely-lived economy and, drawing on the behavioural literature, assume that individuals have reference-dependent preferences: agents’ utility is a function of current consumption and a reference point which captures consumption habits, or the agents’ upbringing. Assuming a history of inequalities in consumption and welfare, we show that the utilitarian allocation is equalising: starting from an unequal distribution, consumption and welfare inequalities decrease over time at the utilitarian optimum. However, even though agents are in a relevant sense identical, equality does not obtain at any finite time.

Item Type:

Report (Working Paper)

Additional Information:

JEL Classification: D63 (Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement); D9 (Micro-Based Behavioural Economics)


utilitarianism, inequality, reference dependent preferences

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Institute of Management Studies


October 2020

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Date Deposited:

09 Dec 2021 09:39

Last Modified:

09 Dec 2021 09:39


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