Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-ttngx Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-05-25T21:45:56.629Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false


Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 August 2012

Luc Bovens
London School of Economics and Political Science,
Marc Fleurbaey
Princeton University,


We consider a special set of risky prospects in which the outcomes are either life or death (or, more generally, binary utilities). There are various alternatives to the utilitarian objective of minimizing the expected loss of lives in such prospects. We start off with the two-person case with independent risks and construct taxonomies of ex ante and ex post evaluations for such prospects. We examine the relationship between the ex ante and the ex post in this restrictive framework: There are more possibilities to respect ex ante and ex post objectives simultaneously than in the general framework, i.e. without the restriction to binary utilities (cf. Harsanyi's aggregation theorem). We extend our results to n persons and to dependent risks. We study optimal strategies for allocating risk reductions given different objectives. We place our results against the backdrop of various pro-poorly off (or prioritarian) value functions (Diamond 1967; Rabinowicz 2002; Fleurbaey 2010) for the evaluation of risky prospects.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



Adler, M. 2011. Well-Being and Fair Distribution: Beyond Cost-Benefit Analysis. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Adler, M.D. and Sanchirico, C.W. 2006. Inequality and uncertainty: theory and legal applications. University of Pennsylvania Law Review 155: 279377.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Atkinson, A.B. 1970. On the measurement of inequality. Journal of Economic Theory 2: 244263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Boadway, R. and Bruce, N. 1984. Welfare Economics. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
Bossert, W. and Weymark, J.A. 2004. Utility in social choice. In Handbook of Utility Theory, vol. 2 (Extensions), eds. Barberà, S., Hammond, P.J. and Seidl, C., 10991177. Boston: Kluwer Academic.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Broome, J. 1991. Weighing Goods. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
Diamond, P. 1967. Cardinal welfare, individualistic ethics, and interpersonal comparisons of utility: comment. Journal of Political Economy 75: 765766.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fleurbaey, M. 2010. Assessing risky social situations. Journal of Political Economy 118: 649680.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Harsanyi, J. 1955. Cardinal welfare, individualistic ethics, and interpersonal comparisons of utility. Journal of Political Economy 3: 309321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Keeney, R.L. 1980. Equity and public risk. Operations Research 28: 527534.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kolm, S.C. 1968. The optimal production of social justice. In Public Economics, eds. Guitton, H. and Margolis, J., 145200. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
Lucas, D.J. 1995. Default correlations and credit analysis. Journal of Fixed Income 4: 7687.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McCarthy, D. 2006. Utilitarianism and prioritarianism I. Economics and Philosophy 22: 335–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Parfit, D. 1991. Equality or priority? The Lindley Lecture. Lawrence: University of Kansas. Reprinted in The Ideal of Equality, ed. M. Clayton and A. Williams, 2002, 81–125. Basingstoke: Palgrave.Google Scholar
Rabinowicz, W. 2002. Prioritarianism for prospects. Utilitas 14: 221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Roberts, K.W.S. 1980. Interpersonal comparability and social choice theory. Review of Economic Studies 47: 421439.CrossRefGoogle Scholar