Well-Being and Fair Distribution: Beyond Cost-Benefit Analysis
Matthew D. Adler, WELL-BEING AND FAIR DISTRIBUTION: BEYOND COST-BENEFIT ANALYSIS, Oxford University Press, 2012
Posted: 5 Jan 2012
Date Written: January 5, 2012
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.
Keywords: 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
JEL Classification: A13, D63, H42, I31, K10, K39
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation