[OPE-L:2468] Re: RE: Welfare functions

From: Allin Cottrell (cottrell@ricardo.ecn.wfu.edu)
Date: Thu Mar 02 2000 - 08:32:35 EST

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On Thu, 2 Mar 2000 P.J.Wells@open.ac.uk wrote:

> 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).

Personally I don't accept any of (1) through (3). A paper Paul
and I wrote for a conference on the Socialist Calcuation Debate
in Lausanne


goes some way to explaining why.

Bluntly, I believe the idea of a full-blown SWF is a
technocratic fantasy. I believe it will be very useful for
planners and populace to have an explicit measure of the labour
time required to produce things, and that minimizing labour-time
in the production of any given vector of goods is a reasonable
first-order approximation to achieving efficiency, but I think
it's dangerous to assume that all the factors one would want to
consider in allocating resources can be collapsed to a single
scalar measure.

> There's a standard literature, starting with Arrow, which
> suggests one should at least be sceptical about the
> possibility of an SWF

Yes, quite.


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