A welfarist critique of social choice theory: interpersonal comparisons in the theory of voting
Keywords:economic methodology, strategic voting, interpersonal comparisons of utility, foundations of social choice
This paper provides a philosophical critique of social choice theory insofar as it deals with the normative evaluation of voting and voting rules. I will argue that the very method of evaluating voting rules in terms of whether they satisfy various conditions is deeply problematic because introducing strategic behaviour leads to a violation of any condition that makes a difference between voting rules. I also argue that it is legitimate to make interpersonal comparisons of utilities in voting theory. Combining a realistic account of voters’ behaviour with a utilitarian evaluation of the outcomes then leads to the judgment that strategic voting is beneficial. If it is, then Arrow's theorem does not have far-reaching consequences for democracy because one of its conditions is not normatively acceptable.