Gödel, Kaplow, Shavell: Consistency and Completeness in Social Decisionmaking


The recent debate on what criteria ought to guide social decisionmaking has focused on consistency: it has been argued that criteria contradicting one another — namely, welfare and fairness — should not be simultaneously employed in order for policy assessment to be consistent. In this article, I raise the related problem of completeness — that is, the question of whether or not a set of consistent criteria is capable of providing answers to all social decision problems. If not, as I suggest might be the case, then the only way to decide otherwise undecidable issues is to simultaneously employ both welfare and fairness, which implies a certain degree of inconsistency within the system.