Public Choice

, Volume 179, Issue 1–2, pp 145–164 | Cite as

A defense of Arrow’s independence of irrelevant alternatives

  • John W. Patty
  • Elizabeth Maggie PennEmail author


Since the publication of Social Choice and Individual Values, Kenneth Arrow’s independence of irrelevant alternatives (IIA) axiom has drawn criticism for being too strong a requirement of a collective choice rule. In this article, we detail and counter some of the criticisms. We present two axioms (one cardinal and one ordinal) that are equivalent to Arrow’s IIA, discuss an implication of IIA for transitive social choice, and argue that violations of IIA do indeed constitute a perversity. We claim that violations of IIA are particularly troubling in contexts where many alternatives are considered simultaneously, good information is available about the ranking of each alternative with respect to each criterion being aggregated, final decisions can be scrutinized and revisited, and/or the correlation between how the various criteria rank alternatives is low. While a mass election is precisely a decision-making scenario that satisfies none of these conditions, we argue that the normative appeal of IIA is maximized for aggregation problems that can be revisited and revised, and that involve objective and varying criteria (e.g., routine administrative and judicial decisions).


Arrow’s theorem Social choice Independence of irrelevant alternatives IIA Measurement 


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Political ScienceEmory UniversityAtlantaUSA

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