Social Choice and Welfare

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 599–614 | Cite as

The distribution problem and Rawlsian reasoning

  • Bertil Tungodden


The difference principle of Rawls has been wrongly translated in the formal literature on welfare economics and social choice theory. The difference principle is concerned with the welfare of the members of the least advantaged segment, and, thus, does not – as frequently argued – assign dictatorial power to the person in the worst off position in society. This distinction is important, and the focus on a leximingroup rule makes the Rawlsian position more plausible than it is in the `disguise' of the conventional leximin rule. However, there is a difficulty with this approach, to wit how to understand the least advantaged segment in society. Various definitions are considered in the paper, but it turns out that in most cases these definitions imply that we have to accept the leximin rule. We suggest one line of reasoning that makes the Rawlsian leximingroup rule a genuine alternative to the leximin rule. In this approach, an independent norm level is imposed on the analysis (i.e. a cut off line that is independent of the distribution of welfare under consideration), and the least advantaged segment is identified as those who have less than this minimum stipend.


Norm Level Social Choice Welfare Economic Choice Theory Difference Principle 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bertil Tungodden
    • 1
  1. 1.Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration, Institute of Economics, Helleveien 30, N-5035 Bergen-Sandviken, Norway (e-mail:

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