The tyranny puzzle in social preferences: an empirical investigation

Frank Cowell, Marc Fleurbaey and Bertil Tungodden



Photo: Springer

Published in:

Social Choice and Welfare, volume 45, pp. 765-792, 2015

DOI: 10.1007/s00355-015-0880-9



When forming their preferences about the distribution of income, rational people may be caught between two opposite forms of “tyranny.” Giving absolute priority to the worst-off imposes a sort of tyranny on the rest of the population, but giving less than absolute priority imposes a reverse form of tyranny where the worst-off may be sacrificed for the sake of small benefits to many well-off individuals. We formally show that this intriguing dilemma is more severe than previously recognised, and we examine how people negotiate such conflicts with a questionnaire-experimental study. Our study shows that both tyrannies are rejected by a majority of the participants, which makes it problematic for them to define consistent distributive preferences on the distribution.

Published July 28, 2016 8:56 AM - Last modified Nov. 20, 2017 2:38 PM