Welfare as Happiness

59 Pages Posted: 2 May 2009 Last revised: 14 Aug 2012

See all articles by John Bronsteen

John Bronsteen

Loyola University Chicago School of Law

Christopher Buccafusco

Duke University School of Law

Jonathan S. Masur

University of Chicago - Law School

Date Written: August 10, 2009


Perhaps the most important goal of law and policy is improving people’s lives. But what constitutes improvement? What is quality of life, and how can it be measured? In previous articles, we have used insights from the new field of hedonic psychology to analyze central questions in civil and criminal justice, and we now apply those insights to a broader inquiry: how can the law make life better? The leading accounts of human welfare in law, economics, and philosophy are preference-satisfaction - getting what one wants - and objective list approaches - possessing an enumerated set of capabilities. This Article argues against both major views and in favor of a third, defining welfare as subjective well-being. As a result, we advocate the replacement of cost-benefit analysis (CBA, the tool of the preference-based approach) with well-being analysis (WBA). Like its sibling CBA, WBA compares the costs and benefits associated with enacting some law or policy. But while CBA requires monetizing costs and benefits to make them commensurable, WBA simply considers their direct effects on reported well-being. Groundbreaking new research in hedonic psychology makes this possible, and we discuss how it can be accomplished.

Suggested Citation

Bronsteen, John and Buccafusco, Christopher J. and Masur, Jonathan S., Welfare as Happiness (August 10, 2009). Georgetown Law Journal, Vol. 98, p. 1583, 2010, U of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 468, Illinois Public Law Research Paper No. 08-31, Loyola University Chicago School of Law Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper Series No. 2009-007, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1397843

John Bronsteen

Loyola University Chicago School of Law ( email )

Chicago, IL 60611
United States
312-654-1511 (Phone)
312-915-7201 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.luc.edu/law/fulltime/bronsteen.shtml

Christopher J. Buccafusco

Duke University School of Law ( email )

210 Science Drive
Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708
United States

Jonathan S. Masur (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
773.702.5188 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.uchicago.edu/faculty/masur/

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