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The behavioural economist and the social planner: to whom should behavioural welfare economics be addressed?

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  • Robert Sugden

Abstract

This paper compares two alternative answers to the question, 'Who is the addressee of welfare economics?' These answers correspond with different understandings of the status of the normative conclusions of welfare economics, and have different implications for how welfare economics should be adapted in the light of the findings of behavioural economics. The conventional welfarist answer is that welfare economics is addressed to a 'social planner' whose objective is to maximise the overall well-being of society; the planner is imagined as a benevolent despot, receptive to the economist's advice. The alternative contractarian answer is that welfare economics is addressed to individuals who are seeking mutually beneficial agreements; a contractarian recommendation has the form 'It is in the interests of each of you separately that all of you together agree to do x'. Each of these answers should be understood as a literary convention which uses a highly-simplified model of politics. I defend the contractarian approach and show that it is less supportive of 'soft paternalism' than is the welfarist approach.
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  • Robert Sugden, 2011. "The behavioural economist and the social planner: to whom should behavioural welfare economics be addressed?," Papers on Economics and Evolution 2011-21, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography.
  • Handle: RePEc:esi:evopap:2011-21
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Robert Sugden, 2004. "The Opportunity Criterion: Consumer Sovereignty Without the Assumption of Coherent Preferences," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(4), pages 1014-1033, September.
    2. Smith, Adam, 1759. "The Theory of Moral Sentiments," History of Economic Thought Books, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, number smith1759.
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    4. Simon, Herbert A, 1978. "Rationality as Process and as Product of Thought," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 68(2), pages 1-16, May.
    5. Ben McQuillin & Robert Sugden, 2012. "How the market responds to dynamically inconsistent preferences," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 38(4), pages 617-634, April.
    6. Richard H. Thaler & Cass R. Sunstein, 2003. "Libertarian Paternalism," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(2), pages 175-179, May.
    7. B. Douglas Bernheim & Antonio Rangel, 2009. "Beyond Revealed Preference: Choice-Theoretic Foundations for Behavioral Welfare Economics," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 124(1), pages 51-104.
    8. Richard H. Thaler, 2008. "Mental Accounting and Consumer Choice," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 27(1), pages 15-25, 01-02.
    9. Robert Sugden, 2008. "Why incoherent preferences do not justify paternalism," Constitutional Political Economy, Springer, vol. 19(3), pages 226-248, September.
    10. John C. Harsanyi, 1955. "Cardinal Welfare, Individualistic Ethics, and Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 63, pages 309-309.
    11. Thomas Leonard, 2008. "Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein, Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness," Constitutional Political Economy, Springer, vol. 19(4), pages 356-360, December.
    12. Sugden, Robert, 2010. "Opportunity As Mutual Advantage," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 26(1), pages 47-68, March.
    13. James M. Buchanan, 1954. "Individual Choice in Voting and the Market," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 62, pages 334-334.
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    Cited by:

    1. Schnellenbach, Jan & Schubert, Christian, 2015. "Behavioral political economy: A survey," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 40(PB), pages 395-417.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles
    • D60 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - General

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