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Behavioral Welfare Economics

  • B. Douglas Bernheim

This paper discusses several competing proposals for general normative frameworks that would encompass non-standard models of choice. Most existing proposals equate welfare with well-being. Some assume that well-being flows from the achievement of well-defined objectives, and that those objectives also guide choices; the trick is to formulate a framework in which less-than-completely coherent choice patterns reveal the unobserved objectives. Others are predicated on the contention that well-being, and hence welfare, is directly measurable. Both of those approaches encounter serious conceptual difficulties. An alternative approach, developed by Bernheim and Rangel [2009], defines welfare directly in terms of choice. It entails a generalized welfare criterion that respects choice directly, without requiring any rationalization involving potentially unverifiable assumptions concerning underlying objectives and their relationships to choice. Because useful behavioral theories generally envision a substantial degree of underlying coherence in behavior, that criterion leads to a rich and tractable normative framework.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 14622.

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Date of creation: Dec 2008
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as B. Douglas Bernheim, 2009. "Behavioral Welfare Economics," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 7(2-3), pages 267-319, 04-05.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14622
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