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What is an “equitable” policy for mitigating the impacts of hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and other natural hazards? Economists tend to see “equity” or “distribution” as irreducibly political and subjective. But, in truth, equity analysis and cost-benefit analysis are on a par. Both require a normative justification. Moreover, normative argument can help us structure equity analysis, just as it can cost-benefit analysis. This chapter, written for a forthcoming book on natural hazards policy after Katrina, argues that equity is a normative consideration distinct from efficiency or overall well-being. It then argues that equity is individualistic, not group-based; ex post, not ex ante; that the “currency” for equity consists in the multiple dimensions of well-being, not income or longevity; and that, at a minimum, equity analysis should be concerned to avoid serious deprivations with respect to any well-being dimension. The upshot is an account with a close affinity to an emerging body of scholarship in development economics, inspired by Amartya Sen's work on "capabilities" and "functionings"; and a set of concrete recommendations for how equity analysis of natural hazards policy should be structured.


Equity, Natural disasters, Cost-benefit analysis, Natural hazards, Hurricane Katrina, Risk

Publication Title

On Risk and Disaster: Lessons from Hurricane Katrina

Publication Citation

In On Risk and Disaster: Lessons from Hurricane Katrina 129 (Ronald Daniels et al. eds., Penn Press 2006)