Social Choice and Welfare

, Volume 25, Issue 2–3, pp 381–418 | Cite as

The news of the death of welfare economics is greatly exaggerated

Original Paper


The paper reexamines the controversy about Bergson–Samuelson social welfare functions (BSFs) that took place between welfare economists and social choice theorists as a consequence of Arrow’s (1951) impossibility theorem. The 1970’s witnessed a new version of the theorem that was meant to establish that BSFs “make interpersonal comparisons of utility or are dictatorial.” Against this, Samuelson reasserted the existence of well-behaved “ordinalist” BSFs and generally denied the relevance of Arrovian impossibilities to welfare economics. The paper formalizes and reassesses each camp’s arguments. While being also critical of Samuelson’s, it eventually endorses his conclusion that welfare economics was left untouched by the controversy. It draws some connections of BSFs with contemporary normative economics.


Social Choice Welfare Economic Social Welfare Function Indifference Curve Social Choice Theorist 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank J. Bone, P. Hammond, S. Kolm, A. Lapidus, F. Maniquet, J. Roemer, D. Schmeidler, K. Suzumura, K. Tadenuma for helpful comments or discussions, and especially M. Salles. We also benefited from presenting the paper at conferences held in Strasbourg, 2003 and Boulogne-sur-Mer, 2004.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CERSES, CNRS and Université Paris 5ParisFrance
  2. 2.Laboratoire d’économétrieC.N.R.S. et Ecole PolytechniqueParisFrance

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