Friday, May 4, 2007

Paper Inspired By This Blog

A reader asks about the paper I promised a while back. I don't want to let the cat to far out of the bag until I have a working paper developed a little further. It will take a bit more work before I have clearly establish the concept as my own.

Here is the idea though. It is possible to constuct a policy that passes benefit-cost analysis but no single person in the economy wants the government to adopt.

This is a real problem for economists. When lean on benefit-cost analysis by saying "look we can't compare happiness between people. Thats a moral judgement. All we can do is maximize the material wealth of society"

But what if maximizing the material wealth lead to a policy that no one wanted. Surely that can't be right. The way I say it is that there is no social welfare function that would choose this policy.

It doesn't matter whose values you use because no one wants the policy.

The conditions that make this true are stringent. Most policies can probably find at least one person who is in favor of them. However, it does mean that benefit-cost analysis could loose it's intellectual safe haven. That would mean that we would have to engage in the messy business of figuring out who benefits and who looses.

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