Alex Voorhoeve (LSE): “Egalitarianism under Ambiguity”

Decision-makers are in an ambiguous situation when they are not in a position to assign precise probabilities to all of the relevant possible outcomes of their actions. Such situations are common – novel medical treatments and policies addressing climate change are two examples. Many people respond to ambiguous situations in a cautious, or ambiguity-averse manner, and there are good reasons for taking such ambiguity aversion to be permissible. We put forward an egalitarian view of distributive justice that incorporates ambiguity aversion. We analyse when the aims of reducing inequality and limiting ambiguity are congruent and when they conflict, and highlight a number of novel implications of the proposed view. We also demonstrate that ambiguity aversion renders a range of distributive views, from egalitarianism to utilitarianism, incompatible with the Pareto principle applied to ambiguous prospects. We argue that this strengthens the hand of egalitarians who wish to dispense with the Pareto principle applied to prospects.

This talk is based upon a joint-paper with Tom Rowe, who is a post-doctoral fellow at Virginia Tech