Document Type


Publication Date



The axioms of expected utility and discounted utility theory have been tested extensively. In contrast, the axioms of social welfare functions have only been tested in a few questionnaire studies involving choices between hypothetical income distributions. In this note, we conduct a controlled experiment with 100 subjects in the role of social planners that tests five fundamental properties of social welfare functions to provide a basic test of cardinal social choice theory. We find that four properties of the standard social welfare functions tested are systematically violated, producing an Allais paradox, a common ratio effect, a framing effect, and a skewness effect in social choice. We also develop a model of salience based social choice which predicts these systematic deviations and highlights the close relationship between these anomalies and the classical paradoxes for risk and time.


Working Paper 19-08



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.