The Value of Limited Altruism

Charles Blackorby
Walter Bossert
David Donaldson

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Keywords: Social Choice, Altruism, Consequentialism.

: Discounting the utilities of future people or giving smaller weights to groups other than one's own is often criticized on the grounds that the resulting objective function differs from the ethically appropriate one. This paper investigates the consequences of changes in the discount factor and weights when they are moved toward the warranted ones. Using the utilitarian value function, it is shown that, except in restrictive special cases, those moves do not necessarily lead to social improvements. We suggest that limitations to altruism are better captured by maximizing the appropriate value function subject to lower bounds on some utilities.

Journal of Economic Literature Classification Nos.: D63, D71.

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Charles Blackorby,
University of British Columbia and GREQAM
Walter Bossert,
University of Nottingham
David Donaldson,
University of British Columbia

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