[OPE-L:2467] RE: Welfare functions

From: P.J.Wells@open.ac.uk
Date: Thu Mar 02 2000 - 06:55:13 EST

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I think Duncan has posed three issues here:

1) a socialist society could develop a social welfare function (SWF)

2) such a function could/should be maximisable (or minimisable; e.g.
minimising necessary labour-time)

3) it would generate numbers (distributed along some single scale) which
administrators could use for allocating resources without further reference
to those concerned.

>From Paul (and Allin's) past comments and their published writings, I gather
that they would subscribe to all three of these (in the case of (2), to the
version in brackets).

I'm very sympathetic to the view that the role of socialist economic
planners should be to minimise necessary labour-time, which I think commits
me to something like (3): minimising general (but, contra Paul and Allin,
not abstract) labour, which is evidently just measured in hours.

My problem, however, is with (1), and hence with (2), or at least with
versions other than the one in parentheses.

There's a standard literature, starting with Arrow, which suggests one
should at least be sceptical about the possibility of an SWF -- and, apart
from this, the whole conception of an algorithm to tell planners what they
should tell people to do seems anti-participatory and anti-democratic.

Why can't people just get together from time to time and decide what seems
to best in the circumstances (no doubt *advised* by specialists)?


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