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Trade-offs between justices, economics, and efficiency


  • Stefan Baumgaertner

    () (Department of Sustainability Sciences and Department of Economics, Leuphana University of Lueneburg, Germany)

  • Stefanie Glotzbach

    (Department of Sustainability Sciences and Department of Economics, Leuphana University of Lueneburg, Germany)

  • Nikolai Hoberg

    (Department of Sustainability Sciences and Department of Economics, Leuphana University of Lueneburg, Germany)

  • Martin F. Quaas

    (Department of Economics, University of Kiel, Germany)

  • Klara Stumpf

    (Department of Sustainability Sciences and Department of Economics, Leuphana University of Lueneburg, Germany)


We argue that economics – as the scientific method of analyzing trade-offs – can be helpful (and may even be indispensable) for assessing the trade-off between intergenerational and intragenerational justice. Economic analysis can delineate the “opportunity set” of politics with respect to the two normative objectives of inter- and intragenerational justice, i.e. it can describe which outcomes are feasible in achieving the two objectives in a given context, and which are not. It can distinguish efficient from inefficient uses of instruments of justice. It can identify the “opportunity cost” of attaining one justice to a higher degree, in terms of less achievement of the other. We find that, under very general conditions, (1) efficiency in the use of instruments of justice implies that there is rivalry between the two justices and the opportunity cost of either justice is positive; (2) negative opportunity costs of achieving one justice exist if there is facilitation between the two justices, which can only happen if instruments of justice are used inefficiently; (3) in outcomes of inefficient uses of instruments of justice in the interior of the opportunity set, the two justices are independent of each other and the opportunity cost of either justice is zero.

Suggested Citation

  • Stefan Baumgaertner & Stefanie Glotzbach & Nikolai Hoberg & Martin F. Quaas & Klara Stumpf, 2011. "Trade-offs between justices, economics, and efficiency," Working Paper Series in Economics 218, University of Lüneburg, Institute of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:lue:wpaper:218

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Louis Putterman & John E. Roemer & Joaquim Silvestre, 1998. "Does Egalitarianism Have a Future?," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(2), pages 861-902, June.
    2. Baumgärtner, Stefan & Quaas, Martin, 2010. "What is sustainability economics?," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 69(3), pages 445-450, January.
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    More about this item


    economics; efficiency; intragenerational and intergenerational justice; normative objectives; opportunity set; opportunity cost; scarce resources;

    JEL classification:

    • A13 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Social Values
    • D61 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Allocative Efficiency; Cost-Benefit Analysis
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement


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