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Valuing Lives Equally and Welfare Economics

  • David Canning

    ()

    (Harvard School of Public Health)

Welfare economics, in the form of cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analysis, is at present internally inconsistent and ethically unappealing. We address these issues by proposing two ethical axioms: society prefers Pareto improvements and society values lives lived at a "standard" level of health and income equally. We show that there exists a unique social preference ordering satisfying these axioms. Welfare economics is reconstructed to produce rankings consistent with this social preference ordering. The result is we should always measure willingness to pay in life years, not money units. A standardized life year becomes an interpersonally comparable unit of value.

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File URL: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/pgda/WorkingPapers/2007/PGDA_WP_27_2007.pdf
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Paper provided by Program on the Global Demography of Aging in its series PGDA Working Papers with number 2707.

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Date of creation: Nov 2007
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Handle: RePEc:gdm:wpaper:2707
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/pgda

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  1. Kenneth J. Arrow, 1950. "A Difficulty in the Concept of Social Welfare," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 58, pages 328.
  2. Culyer, A J, 1989. "The Normative Economics of Health Care Finance and Provision," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 5(1), pages 34-58, Spring.
  3. Chichilnisky, Graciela & Heal, Geoffrey, 1983. "Necessary and sufficient conditions for a resolution of the social choice paradox," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 68-87, October.
  4. Weymark, John A, 1985. "Money-Metric Utility Functions," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 26(1), pages 219-32, February.
  5. E.Somanathan, 2003. "Valuing lives equally: Distributional weights for welfare analysis," Indian Statistical Institute, Planning Unit, New Delhi Discussion Papers 03-02, Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi, India.
  6. Ryan D. Edwards, 2008. "The Cost of Uncertain Life Span," NBER Working Papers 14093, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Sen, Amartya K, 1977. "On Weights and Measures: Informational Constraints in Social Welfare Analysis," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 45(7), pages 1539-72, October.
  8. Louis Kaplow & Steven Shavell, 2001. "Any Non-welfarist Method of Policy Assessment Violates the Pareto Principle," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(2), pages 281-286, April.
  9. Johannesson, Magnus, 1995. "The relationship between cost-effectiveness analysis and cost-benefit analysis," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 41(4), pages 483-489, August.
  10. Becker, Gary S & Mulligan, Casey B, 1997. "The Endogenous Determination of Time Preference," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(3), pages 729-58, August.
  11. Broome, John, 1985. "The Economic Value of Life," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 52(27), pages 281-94, August.
  12. Fuchs, Victor R & Zeckhauser, Richard, 1987. "Valuing Health--A "Priceless' Commodity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(2), pages 263-68, May.
  13. Blackorby, Charles & Donaldson, David & Weymark, John A, 1984. "Social Choice with Interpersonal Utility Comparisons: A Diagrammatic Introduction," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 25(2), pages 327-56, June.
  14. Weinstein, Milton C. & Manning, Willard Jr., 1997. "Theoretical issues in cost-effectiveness analysis," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 16(1), pages 121-128, February.
  15. Dolan, Paul & Edlin, Richard, 2002. "Is it really possible to build a bridge between cost-benefit analysis and cost-effectiveness analysis?," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(5), pages 827-843, September.
  16. 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.
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