Much economic analysis derives policy recommendations based on social welfare criteria intended to model the preferences of a policy maker. Yet, little is known about policy maker’s normative views in a way amenable to this use. In a behavioral experiment, we elicit German legislators’ social welfare criteria unconfounded by political economy constraints. When resolving preference conflicts across individuals, politicians place substantially more importance on least-favored than on most-favored alternatives, contrasting with both common aggregation mechanisms and the equal weighting inherent in utilitarianism and the Kaldor-Hicks criterion. When resolving preference conflicts within individuals, we find no support for the commonly used “long-run criterion” which insists that choices merit intervention only if the lure of immediacy may bias intertemporal choice. Politicians’ and the public’s social welfare criteria largely coincide.
Ambuehl, Sandro, Sebastian Blesse, Philipp Doerrenberg, Christoph Feldhaus und Axel Ockenfels (2023), Politicians’ Social Welfare Criteria – An Experiment With German Legislators, ZEW Discussion Paper Nr. 23-013, Mannheim.