Well-Being and Fair Distribution: Beyond Cost-Benefit Analysis

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Well-Being and Fair Distribution provides a rigorous and comprehensive defense of the “social welfare function” as a tool for evaluating governmental policies. In particular, it argues for a “prioritarian” social welfare function: one that gives greater weight to well-being changes affecting worse-off individuals. In doing so, the book draws on many literatures: in theoretical economics, applied economics, philosophy, and law. Topics addressed include the following: the nature of well-being and the possibility of interpersonal comparisons; the measurement of well-being via “utility” numbers; why a “prioritarian” social welfare function is more appealing than alternative forms (for example, a utilitarian, leximin, or “sufficientist” function); whether fair distribution should be conceptualized on a lifetime or sublifetime basis; and social choice under uncertainty.

The book also compares the social welfare function to other, more familiar policy-evaluation methodologies—traditional cost-benefit analysis, inequality metrics, poverty metrics, and cost-effectiveness analysis. Only the “social welfare function” provides a unified, implementable, and normatively plausible methodology that respects the most basic welfarist principles (such as the Pareto principle) and is sensitive to distributive considerations.


Philosophy of law, law and economics, philosophy of economics, prioritarianism, distributive theory, fairness, distribution, social welfare, wellbeing, government policy, cost-benefit analysis, CBA, utility metrics, welfarism, social choice theory

Publication Title

Well-Being and Fair Distribution: Beyond Cost-Benefit Analysis

Publication Citation

Well-Being and Fair Distribution: Beyond Cost-Benefit Analysis. Oxford University Press 2012. ISBN 978-0-19-538499-4.