Valuation and Evaluation: Measuring the Quality of Life and Evaluating Public Policy
This paper is about measuring social well-being and evaluating policy. Section 1 concerns the links between the two, while Sections 2 and 3, respectively, are devoted to the development of appropriate methods for measuring and evaluating. In Section 2 I identify a minimal set of indices for spanning a general conception of social well-being. The analysis is motivated by the frequent need to make welfare comparisons across time and communities. A distinction is drawn between current well-being and sustainable well-being. Measuring current well-being is the subject of discussion in Sections 2.2-2.3. It is argued that a set of five indices, consisting of private consumption per head, life expectancy at birth, literacy, and indices of civil and political liberties, taken together, are a reasonable approximation for the purpose at hand. Indices of the quality of life currently in use, such as the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Index, are cardinal measures. Since indices of civil and political liberties are only ordinal, aggregate measures of social well-being should be ordinal. In this connection, the Borda index suggests itself. In Section 2.3 the Borda index is used on data from 46 of the poorest countries in the early 1980s. Interestingly, of the component indices, the ranking of the sample countries in terms of life expectancy at birth is the most highly correlated with the countries' Borda ranking. Even more interestingly, the ranking of countries in terms of gross national product (GNP) per head is almost as highly correlated. There can be little doubt that this finding is an empirical happenstance. But it may not be an uncommon happenstance. If so, GNP per head could reasonably continue to be used as a summary measure of social well-being, even though it has no theoretical claims to be one. It is widely thought that net national product (NNP) per head measures the economic component of sustainable well-being. Section 2.4 and the Appendix show that this belief is false. NNP, suitably defined, can be used to evaluate economic policies, but it should not be used to make intertemporal and cross-country comparisons of the standard of living. In particular, comparisons of sustainable welfare should involve comparisons of wealth. For the purposes of comparing social well-being in an economy over time, often, one would analyze whether net investment is positive, negative, or nil. Writings on the welfare economics of NNP have mostly addressed economies pursuing optimal policies, and are thus of limited use. The analysis in Section 2.4 and the Appendix generalizes this substantially by studying environments where governments are capable of engaging only in policy reforms, in economies characterized by substantial non-convexities. The analysis pertinent for optimizing governments and convex economies are special limiting cases of the one reported here. In Sections 3.1-3.3 I explain that policy-evaluation techniques developed in the 1970s, while formally correct, neglected to consider (1) resource allocation in the wide variety of non-market institutions throughout the world, and (2) the role the environmental-resource base plays in society. It is argued that the evaluation of policy changes can be done effectively only if there is a fair understanding of the way socioeconomic and ecological systems would respond to the changes. The observation is no doubt banal, but all too often decisionmakers have neglected to model the combined socioeconomic and ecological system before embarking upon new policies or keeping faith in prevailing ones. Examples are provided to show that such neglect has probably meant even greater hardship for groups of people commonly regarded as particularly deserving of consideration. The examples are also designed to demonstrate how recent advances in the understanding of general resource allocation mechanisms and of environmental and resource economics can be incorporated in a systematic way into what are currently the best-practice policy evaluation techniques.
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:
- J. A. Mirrlees, 1967. "Optimum Growth when Technology is Changing," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 34(1), pages 95-124.
- Bruno S. Frey & Alois Stutzer, 1999. "Measuring Preferences by Subjective Well-Being," Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE), Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, vol. 155(4), pages 755-778, December.
- Oswald, Andrew J, 1997.
"Happiness and Economic Performance,"
Royal Economic Society, vol. 107(445), pages 1815-1831, November.
- Oswald, Andrew, 1997. "Happiness and Economic Performance," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 478, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
- Oswald, A.J., 1997. "Happiness and Economic Performance," Papers 18, Centre for Economic Performance & Institute of Economics.
- Martin L. Weitzman, 1976. "On the Welfare Significance of National Product in a Dynamic Economy," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 90(1), pages 156-162.
- M. L. Weitzman, 1974. "On the Welfare Significance of National Product in Dynamic Economy," Working papers 125, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
- Elinor Ostrom & Roy Gardner, 1993. "Coping with Asymmetries in the Commons: Self-Governing Irrigation Systems Can Work," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 7(4), pages 93-112, Fall.
- Sefton, J. A. & Weale, M. R., 1996. "The net national product and exhaustible resources: The effects of foreign trade," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 61(1), pages 21-47, July.
- Per-Olov Johansson & Karl-Gustaf Löfgren, 1996. "On the interpretation of ‘green’ NNP measures as cost-benefit rules," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 7(3), pages 243-250, April.
- Hartwick, John M, 1977. "Intergenerational Equity and the Investing of Rents from Exhaustible Resources," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 67(5), pages 972-974, December.
- John Hartwick, 1976. "Intergenerational Equity and the Investing of Rents from Exhaustible Resources," Working Papers 220, Queen's University, Department of Economics.
- Abramovitz, Moses, 1986. "Catching Up, Forging Ahead, and Falling Behind," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 46(02), pages 385-406, June.
- Dasgupta, Partha & Weale, Martin, 1992. "On measuring the quality of life," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 20(1), pages 119-131, January.
- 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.
- Dreze, Jean & Stern, Nicholas, 1990. "Policy reform, shadow prices, and market prices," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(1), pages 1-45, June.
- Robert E. Hall & Charles I. Jones, 1999. "Why Do Some Countries Produce So Much More Output per Worker than Others?," NBER Working Papers 6564, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
- Hahn, F H, 1971. "Equilibrium with Transaction Costs," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 39(3), pages 417-439, May.
- Dasgupta, Partha, 1998. "Population, consumption and resources: Ethical issues," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(2-3), pages 139-152, February.
- Putnam, H., 1989. "Objectivity and the Science/Ethics Distinction," Research Paper 70, World Institute for Development Economics Research.
- Pearce, David & Hamilton, Kirk & Atkinson, Giles, 1996. "Measuring sustainable development: progress on indicators," Environment and Development Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 1(01), pages 85-101, February.
- Pezzey, J., 1992. "Sustainable Development Concepts; An Economic Analysis," Papers 2, World Bank - The World Bank Environment Paper.
- Richard T. Carson, 2011. "Contingent Valuation," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 2489.
- Carson, Richard T. & Hanemann, W. Michael, 2006. "Contingent Valuation," Handbook of Environmental Economics,in: K. G. Mäler & J. R. Vincent (ed.), Handbook of Environmental Economics, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 17, pages 821-936 Elsevier.
- Weitzman, Martin L., 1998. "On the welfare significance of national product under interest-rate uncertainty," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 42(8), pages 1581-1594, September.
- Martin L. Weitzman, 1996. "On the Welfare Significance of National Product Under Interest-Rate Uncertainty," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1776, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
- Asheim, Geir B, 1994. " Net National Product as an Indicator of Sustainability," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 96(2), pages 257-265.
- Heal, G., 1998. "Valuing the Future: Economic Theory and Sustainability," Papers 98-10, Columbia - Graduate School of Business.
- Hartwick, John M., 1990. "Natural resources, national accounting and economic depreciation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(3), pages 291-304, December.
- John M. Hartwick, 1990. "Natural Resources, National Accounting and Economic Depreciation," Working Papers 771, Queen's University, Department of Economics.
- Tjalling C. Koopmans, 1959. "Stationary Ordinal Utility and Impatience," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 81, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
- Robert E. Hall & Charles I. Jones, 1999. "Why do Some Countries Produce So Much More Output Per Worker than Others?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(1), pages 83-116. Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)