Markets, Productivity, and Happiness in a Historical Perspective

From Pareto to Atkinson: The roots of normative approaches and ethical considerations in personal inequality measurement (1895-1970)

Hauser Ignacio, Université Jean Monnet Saint-Étienne / Université de Lyon

In this paper, we propose a chronology of the ideas and characteristics underlying the main indices created for the measurement of inequality, from the seminal contributions of Vilfredo Pareto at the end of the XIX century to the ones of Anthony B. Atkinson in 1970. We found that both in descriptive and normative approaches, the adoption of one or another particular definition/interpretation of the term “inequality” has determined/conditioned the adoption of one or another inequality measurement tool. This difference in adoption has varied for epistemological reasons, but also according to what the scholar “considered important to include” or take into account. As we noted, a clear illustration of this has been the varying “status” or “role” that the State has occupied behind each measurement approach. Throughout the paper, some misunderstandings about the origin and paternity of certain contributions are also developed and clarified, and some works that have gone unnoticed in the history of inequality measurement are exposed.


Keywords: Inequality measurement - normative approach - descriptive approach - history of public economics - ethical values

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