IZA DP No. 14515: Foundations of Utilitarianism under Risk and Variable Population
Utilitarianism is the most prominent family of social welfare functions. We present three new axiomatic characterizations of utilitarian (that is, additively separable) social welfare functions in a setting where there is risk over both population size and the welfares of individuals. First, we show that, given uncontroversial basic axioms, Blackorby et al.'s (1998) Expected Critical-Level Generalized Utilitarianism (ECLGU) is equivalent to a new axiom holding that it is better to allocate higher utility-conditional-on-existence to possible people who have a higher probability of existence. The other two novel characterizations extend classic axiomatizations of utilitarianism from settings with either social risk or variable-population, considered alone. By considering both social risk and variable population together, we clarify the fundamental normative considerations underlying utilitarian policy evaluation.