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Conference 'Risk and Social Decisions' 3rd December - 5th December, 2009 London School of Economics (LSE)

Supported by the LSE Choice Group| and CNRS.

Organised by Marc Fleurbaey (Paris Descartes) and the LSE Choice Group.

Risk and Social Decisions

In welfare economics and political philosophy, a consensus has not yet been reached about how to assess social situations involving risk. Full of enigmas and controversies, this area is a minefield for theorists, applied analysts, and decision-makers. The purpose of this workshop is to bring together economists and philosophers with expertise in this area in order to make progress on some of the difficult issues pertaining to risky social decisions. The workshop will be preceded by a masterclass on Harsanyi's theorem.

Master Classes on Harsanyi's Theorem

Thursday, 3rd December


Thibault Gajdos (CNRS) Aggregation of preferences under risk and uncertainty|



Marc Fleurbaey (Paris Descartes) What does Harsanyi's theorem tell us?|

Richard Bradley (LSE) Assessing Harsanyi's theorem: conceptual and ethical questions


Conference on Risk and Social Decisions

Friday, 4th December


Michael Otsuka (UCL) Risking Life and Limb: How to Discount Harms by their Improbability 


Feriel Kandil (ENS Cachan, CNRS) Closed impartiality revisited


Sven Ove Hansson (KTH Stockholm) Science and ethics in risk policies


Katie Steele (LSE) The scientist qua policy advisor doesmake value judgments


Jean-Christophe Vergnaud (CNRS) Aggregation of imprecise information: a subjective approach| (with T Gajdos). Paper available online|.


Jonathan Wolff (UCL) Five types of risky situations



Saturday, 5th December


Marc Fleurbaey (Paris Descartes and LSE) Assessing Risky Social Situations|. Paper available in the LSE Choice Group Working Papers|.


Alex Voorhoeve (LSE) The Evaluation of Social Risks: Solely Ex Ante, Solely Ex Post, or a Bit of Both? (with M. Fleurbaey)


Thibault Gajdos (CNRS) Aggregation of incomplete preferences under risk |(with E Danan and JM Tallon)


David McCarthy (Edinburgh) The priority view


Luc Bovens (LSE) Ethics, Risk and Public Works: An Economic Model of Optimal Risk Reduction (with M Fleurbaey)


Topics in Risk and Social Decisions

Here is a small sample of a long list of unresolved issues that the workshop will address:

  1. There is a large consensus in normative economics that some degree of priority for the worse off is advisable in general, but in the presence of risk a famous theorem by Harsanyi seems to imply that priority to the worse off makes it impossible to find a rational criterion for social evaluation that respects individual preferences.
  2. Some popular criteria have the strange property that they advocate choosing alternatives that are known for sure to deliver results which are inferior to those obtained with other alternatives, and there is disagreement about whether this property condemns such criteria.
  3. It seems reasonable and equitable to spread risks equally over the population, but this increases the probability of catastrophes in which a large portion of the population suffers damage
  4. Some theories of justice say that individuals should be held responsible only for what they choose but at the same time advocate holding individuals responsible for being lucky or unlucky in certain circumstances, even if one never chooses one's degree of luck.
  5. The precautionary principle is said by some to have no basis and no meaning while it appears absolutely essential and compelling to others.

In an era full of changes and questions about a risky future, in a context of ever more global climate and health hazards, it would be very helpful to decision-makers to be on firmer ground as far as decisions criteria are concerned, especially when risks are unequally distributed and their outcomes have redistributive consequences, affecting the worse off more than others. This workshop will contribute to encouraging research and developing networks among academics on these issues, in the interdisciplinary frame that seems appropriate for a field combining ethical principles and technical analysis. While full of difficulties and conundrums, this field also promises to deliver new and important results if the appropriate effort is made.

Further Information

The workshop is organized in collaboration with the LSE Choice Group. The LSE Choice Group| is a group of people based for the most part at the LSE with a shared interest in the theory of rational decision making in individuals and groups and its application to economic, political and social questions. We hold regular seminars on Wednesday afternoons from 17-30 to 19-00 in T206 (2nd floor, Lakatos Building, Portugal Street. Please email c.heilmann at lse.ac.uk if you are interested in regular updates on seminars and events.