SummaryThe analysis of welfare economics is built around the concept of Pareto efficiency. However, this efficiency criterion does not always represent a satisfactory answer. In order to solve this problem, and to find a new way to establish which allocation is best, economists have been since searching for new criteria to make a more informed decision. In this Learning Path we learn about some of these criteria.
The Little criterion was developed by Ian M.D. Little in his paper “A Critique of Welfare Economics”, 1949, and it constitutes a further step for compensation principle theory. Little criticises the separation between efficiency and distribution and he demands as in Scitovsky’s criterion, for the Kaldor’s and Hicks’ criteria to hold. Furthermore, this criterion also requires that the income distribution is not worsened by the change of states.
This criterion however, brings some limitations, as a result of its implicit value judgement. The criterion will be met, if by a change of states the positively affected individual (winner) is poorer than the negatively affected individual (loser). As an example, let’s analyse the following graph, where we consider the utility of two individuals (A on the x-axis and B on the y-axis), which we will compare using the utility possibility frontier of two different moments.
Kaldor’s criterion is met when going from X to Y, Y to X or Y to Z, but not when going from Z to Y. However, Hicks’ criterion is only met when going from Y to Z. Therefore, when comparing state Y to Z, winners can compensate the loss of the losers, but losers cannot compensate the other part in order to avoid the change. This is the only case in our example where the Scitovsky criterion is met, making Z preferred to Y. However, Little’s criterion is only met if individual B is poorer than individual A.