Behavioral Welfare Economics
74 Pages Posted: 15 Jan 2009 Last revised: 17 Mar 2010
Date Written: December 2008
This paper discusses several competing proposals for general normative frameworks that would encompass non-standard models of choice. Most existing proposals equate welfare with well-being. Some assume that well-being flows from the achievement of well-defined objectives, and that those objectives also guide choices; the trick is to formulate a framework in which less-than-completely coherent choice patterns reveal the unobserved objectives. Others are predicated on the contention that well-being, and hence welfare, is directly measurable. Both of those approaches encounter serious conceptual difficulties. An alternative approach, developed by Bernheim and Rangel , defines welfare directly in terms of choice. It entails a generalized welfare criterion that respects choice directly, without requiring any rationalization involving potentially unverifiable assumptions concerning underlying objectives and their relationships to choice. Because useful behavioral theories generally envision a substantial degree of underlying coherence in behavior, that criterion leads to a rich and tractable normative framework.
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