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Well-Being and Fair DistributionBeyond Cost-Benefit Analysis$
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Matthew Adler

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780195384994

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195384994.001.0001

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Estimating Utilities

Estimating Utilities

(p.237) 4 Estimating Utilities
Well-Being and Fair Distribution

Matthew D. Adler

Oxford University Press

This chapter begins by addressing the problem of simplified outcomes. Outcomes are not complete possible worlds, but more limited descriptions of possible realities. This is a feature, not merely of the social welfare function approach, but of all policy frameworks. But the simplified nature of outcomes raises some distinct puzzles for the construction of the set U. What exactly does it mean for an individual to have extended preferences with respect to life-histories that arise from simplified outcomes: life-histories in which some of the subjects' attributes, and some background facts about the world, are missing? The chapter proposes an answer to this crucial problem, and then confronts a second problem: What are the data sources that help us infer individuals' extended preferences? This is followed by a discussion of further issues relating to the construction of U. These include: the extent to which spectators' preferences are sensitive to subjects' preferences; how to model heterogeneity in extended preferences; using an assumption of temporal additivity to facilitate the estimation of extended preferences; the role of happiness surveys; and the use of surveys as opposed to behavioral data to estimate preferences. The chapter closes by discussing the problem of “zeroing out” extended utility functions, so that they assign zero to nonexistence.

Keywords:   simplified outcomes, extended preferences, zeroing out, social welfare function

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