According to standard theory founded on Harsanyi (J Polit Econ 61:434–435, 1953; 63:309–321, 1955) a social welfare function can be appropriately based on the individual’s approach to choice under uncertainty. We investigate how people really do rank distributions in terms of welfare. According to Harsanyi, the evaluation can be done from the standpoint of an uninvolved external judge, a public official, for example, or by a person who knows that she holds one of the positions in society, with an equal chance for any of the available positions. Are these two structures to be viewed differently? We use a questionnaire experiment to focus on the two different interpretations of the Harsanyi approach. There are important, systematic differences that transcend the cultural background of respondents
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