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Economic inequality and paretian welfare economics: Some insinuating questions


This paper examines the academic soundness of the Pareto welfare criterion as a normative rule for evaluating alternative economic inequality scenarios and suggests that the criterion has several weaknesses, which weaken its usefulness. First, the Pareto principle is of limited use in the inequality debate because labor markets hardly satisfy the conditions of perfect competition, the pivotal assumption of the theory. Second, the proposition that competitive equilibrium leads to the “common good” of society is difficult to defend. Third, the Paretian welfare economics barely answers the questions society demands, because perfect competition does not guarantee fairness in the determination of relative prices in the initial situation of income distribution. Fourth, in the distribution theory, the marginal productivity principle determines the rewards to the factors of production. If we assume that rent, wage and interest incomes are determined by this theory, then questions arise about how profits, the potentially huge surpluses generated by the businesses, are distributed. Fifth, income distribution, being a public policy topic, is a political issue. However, Pareto's primary motivation in formulating the principle was to alienate the income distribution debate from political and policy discourses. Finally, by invoking the Pareto principle, economists are in fact avoiding the real issues of the public debate on personal distribution of income. Personal income distribution truly refers to division of income generated by a group of people working together and therefore, ought to be analysed with reference to the sector of employment. Thus, Tommy Franks' earning should be compared with that of a private, while an ordinary worker's salary should be compared with that of the CEO. History testifies that the public earning structure is much more equitable than that of the private sector. This poses a very serious question: Which earning structure reflects improvement in social welfare: public or private?

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Dr. M. Lutfor Rahman, Professor (retired), Department of Agricultural Finance, Bangladesh Agricultural University, Mymensingh, Bangladesh, read the initial version of the paper and made several comments, which have significantly contributed to the improvement of the manuscript quality. The author gratefully acknowledges this intellectual debt. He, however, remains solely responsible for the paper's residual imperfections.

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Elahi, K.QI. Economic inequality and paretian welfare economics: Some insinuating questions. FSSE 35, 19–36 (2005).

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  • Income Inequality
  • Income Distribution
  • Welfare Economic
  • Gini Coefficient
  • Social Economic