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Evaluating the Welfare State

  • James J. Heckman
  • Jeffrey A. Smith

A variety of criteria are relevant for evaluating alternative policies in democratic societies composed of persons with diverse values and perspectives. In this paper, we consider alternative criteria for evaluating the welfare state, and the data required to operationalize them. We examine sets of identifying assumptions that bound, or exactly produce, these alternative criteria given the availability of various types of data. We consider the economic questions addressed by two widely-used econometric evaluation estimators and relate them to the requirements of a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis. We present evidence on how the inference from the most commonly used econometric evaluation estimator is modified when the direct costs of a program are fully assessed, including the welfare costs of the taxes required to support the program. Finally, we present evidence of the empirical inconsistency of alternative criteria derived from evaluations based on on self-selection and attrition decisions, and on self-reported evaluations from questionnaires when applied to a prototypical job training program.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 6542.

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Date of creation: May 1998
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Publication status: published as Econometrics and Economic Theory in the 20th Century: The Ragnar Frisch Centennial, Strom, Steiner, ed., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998, pp. 241-318.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6542
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  1. Heckman, James J & Honore, Bo E, 1990. "The Empirical Content of the Roy Model," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 58(5), pages 1121-49, September.
  2. James Heckman & Hidehiko Ichimura & Jeffrey Smith & Petra Todd, 1998. "Characterizing Selection Bias Using Experimental Data," NBER Working Papers 6699, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Arulampalam, W. & Robin A. Naylor & Jeremy P. Smith, 2002. "University of Warwick," Royal Economic Society Annual Conference 2002 9, Royal Economic Society.
  4. Heckman, James J. & Robb, Richard Jr., 1985. "Alternative methods for evaluating the impact of interventions : An overview," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 30(1-2), pages 239-267.
  5. Heckman, James J, 1974. "Effects of Child-Care Programs on Women's Work Effort," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(2), pages S136-S163, Part II, .
  6. Harberger, Arnold C, 1971. "Three Basic Postulates for Applied Welfare Economics: An Interpretive Essay," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 9(3), pages 785-97, September.
  7. Ashenfelter, Orley C, 1978. "Estimating the Effect of Training Programs on Earnings," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 60(1), pages 47-57, February.
  8. Heckman, James J, 1996. "Randomization as an Instrumental Variable: Notes," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 78(2), pages 336-41, May.
  9. Couch, Kenneth A, 1992. "New Evidence on the Long-Term Effects of Employment Training Programs," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 10(4), pages 380-88, October.
  10. Heckman, James J & Ichimura, Hidehiko & Todd, Petra, 1998. "Matching as an Econometric Evaluation Estimator," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 65(2), pages 261-94, April.
  11. Heckman, James J, 1978. "Dummy Endogenous Variables in a Simultaneous Equation System," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 46(4), pages 931-59, July.
  12. Heckman, James J, 1974. "Shadow Prices, Market Wages, and Labor Supply," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 42(4), pages 679-94, July.
  13. Chipman, John S & Moore, James C, 1976. "Why an Increase in GNP Need Not Imply an Improvement in Potential Welfare," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 29(3), pages 391-418.
  14. 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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