ICES Seminar in Experimental Economics and Game Theory

The Will of the People: How do Individuals Aggregate Ordinal Preferences?

Friday, February 12, 2021 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM
Online Location, Zoom Meeting

The ICES Seminar in Experimental Economics and Game Theory of the Spring 2021 semester will feature:

Sandro Ambuehl

University of Zurich

The Will of the People: How do Individuals Aggregate Ordinal Preferences?

 

Please contact ICES Office Manager (sbahabib@gmu.edu) for Zoom link.

 

Abstract

Famous impossibility results (Arrow, 1950, Sen, 1970) show that there is no single best rule for aggregating ordinal preferences. Yet, in domains ranging from political economy to market design, preference aggregation problems abound, raising the question of how individuals believe normatively appealing aggregation should occur. In our experiment, individuals in the role of Social Architects make a choice for a group they are not part of, knowing only group members’ ordinal preferences over the alternatives, in two contexts: assigning tasks to workers, and donating money to a political party. We find that the vast majority of Social Architects aggregate ordinal preferences like utilitarians, after imputing cardinal utility information from ordinal rankings. Subjects find little normative appeal in the celebrated Condorcet pairwise majority rule and in any other procedures that require ignoring information about preference intensity. Multi-stage procedures, which are frequently used in practice, also find vanishing empirical support. Using a clustering method, we show that subjects do not systematically employ any aggregation procedure outside the set of rules we consider. Our results also fill a gap in the literature on other-regarding preferences which exclusively considers cardinally comparable outcomes.

 

For more information about the Seminar Series, please visit the Seminar Schedule homepage.