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.

Publication Citation

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