Matthew Adler, Well-Being and Fair Distribution: Beyond Cost-Benefit Analysis

Matthew Adler has a major new book with OUP that will interest many readers of this blog. Here is the description:

Well-Being and Fair Distribution provides a rigorous and comprehensive defense of the “social welfare function” as a tool for evaluating governmental policies. In particular, it argues for a “prioritarian” social welfare function: one that gives greater weight to well-being changes affecting worse-off individuals. In doing so, the book draws on many literatures: in theoretical economics, applied economics, philosophy, and law. Topics addressed include the following: the nature of well-being and the possibility of interpersonal comparisons; the measurement of well-being via “utility” numbers; why a “prioritarian” social welfare function is more appealing than alternative forms (for example, a utilitarian, leximin, or “sufficientist” function); whether fair distribution should be conceptualized on a lifetime or sublifetime basis; and social choice under uncertainty.

The book also compares the social welfare function to other, more familiar policy-evaluation methodologies — traditional cost-benefit analysis, inequality metrics, poverty metrics, and cost-effectiveness analysis. Only the “social welfare function” provides a unified, implementable, and normatively plausible methodology that respects the most basic welfarist principles (such as the Pareto principle) and is sensitive to distributive considerations.

OUP’s US page for the book is here. I’ve taken the liberty of pasting a couple of blurbs here:

“Matthew D. Adler’s exceptional book offers both an in-depth exploration of the foundations of welfare analysis and an engaging plea for a particular approach, with refreshing constructive proposals. Masterfully done.”
–Marc Fleurbaey, Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Public Affairs and the University Center for Human Values, Princeton University

“In Well-Being and Fair Distribution Matthew D. Adler holds up a very simple and plausible idea and defends it with strong analytical intelligence, technical skill, humane passion and philosophical savvy. The idea he defends is that law and institutions should be set to maximize a prioritarian social welfare function. We should seek to increase aggregate well-being for people, and in doing so, give extra weight to achieving gains for a person, the worse off she would otherwise be. This outstanding book makes this idea vivid and precise and indicates its main implications for public policy.”
–Richard Arneson, Distinguished Professor, University of California, San Diego

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