This paper concerns Saez and Stantcheva’s (2016) generalized social marginal welfare weights (GSMWW), which are used to aggregate losses and gains due to the tax system, while incorporating non-utilitarian ethical considerations. That approach evaluates local changes in tax policy without appealing to a global social objective. However, I argue that local comparisons between different tax systems implicitly entail global comparisons. Moreover, whenever welfare weights are not of a utilitarian kind, these implied global comparisons are inconsistent. Part of the motivation for the GSMWW approach is that it provides a way to incorporate broader ethical judgements into the evaluation of the tax system while preserving the Pareto principle. I suggest that the problems with the approach ought to spark a reconsideration of Pareto if one wants to represent broader values in formal policy analysis.
First version, February 15, 2021
D63: Equity; Justice; Inequality; and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
H21: Taxation and Subsidies: Efficiency; Optimal Taxation
H23: Taxation and Subsidies: Externalities; Redistributive Effects; Environmental Taxes and Subsidies