Measuring Social Welfare: An Introduction

ISBN : 9780190643027

Matthew D. Adler
328 Pages
156 x 156 mm
Pub date
Dec 2019
Send mail
  • Provides an accessible introduction to the social welfare function (SWF) framework
  • Takes an interdisciplinary approach using economics, philosophy, and policy studies
  • Demonstrates the benefits of the SWF approach compared to cost benefit analysis (CBA)

Disputes over government policies rage in a number of areas. From taxation to climate change, from public finance to risk regulation, and from health care to infrastructure planning, advocates debate how policies affect multiple dimensions of individual well-being, how these effects balance against each other, and how trade-offs between overall well-being and inequality should be resolved.
How to measure and balance well-being gains and losses, is a vexed issue. Matthew D. Adler advances the debate by introducing the social welfare function (SWF) framework and demonstrating how it can be used as a powerful tool for evaluating governmental policies. The framework originates in welfare economics and in philosophical scholarship regarding individual well-being, ethics, and distributive justice. It has three core components: a well-being measure, which translates each of the possible policy outcomes into an array of interpersonally comparable well-being numbers, quantifying how well off each person in the population would be in that outcome; a rule for ranking outcomes thus described ; and an uncertainty module, which orders policies understood as probability distributions over outcomes. The SWF framework is a significant improvement compared to cost-benefit analysis (CBA), which quantifies policy impacts in dollars, is thereby biased towards the rich, and is insensitive to the distribution of these monetized impacts. The SWF framework, by contrast, uses an unbiased measure of well-being and allows the policymaker to consider both efficiency (total well-being) and equity (the distribution of well-being).
Because the SWF framework is a fully generic methodology for policy assessment, Adler also discusses how it can be implemented to inform government policies. He illustrates it through a detailed case study of risk regulation, contrasting the implication of results of SWF and CBA. This book provides an accessible, yet rigorous overview of the SWF approach that can inform policy-makers and students.


Chapter 1: The Social Welfare Function: An Overview
Chapter 2: Measuring Well-Being
Chapter 3: The Landscape of SWFs
Chapter 4: Which SWF Should We Choose? A Debate
Chapter 5: Implementing the SWF Framework: A Case Study
Chapter 6: The Institutional Role of the SWF Framework
Chapter 7: Research Frontiers

About the author: 

Matthew D. Adler is the Richard A. Horvitz Professor of Law and Professor of Economics, Philosophy, and Public Policy at Duke University, and is the founding director of the Duke Center for Law, Economics and Public Policy. His scholarship is interdisciplinary, drawing from both welfare economics and normative ethics. Adler is the author of New Foundations of Cost-Benefit Analysis (Harvard, 2006; co-authored with Eric Posner) and Well-Being and Fair Distribution: Beyond Cost-Benefit Analysis (Oxford, 2012). He edited the Oxford Handbook of Well-Being and Public Policy with Marc Fleurbaey (2016). He was an editor of the journal Legal Theory until 2017, and is now an editor of the journal Economics and Philosophy.

"A pathbreaking, state-of-the-art exploration of the idea of social welfare, with major theoretical advances and lots of implications for actual practice. A tremendous achievement."-Cass R. Sunstein, former Administrator, White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and author, On Freedom
"This important book is by a world leader in the study of social welfare. It provides an extremely useful introduction to a field that deserves a central place in all curricula. Everyone interested in public policy should be familiar with the insights and methods developed in Measuring Social Welfare. It enhances our ability to assess complex social situations, taking into account efficiency and equity simultaneously, and provides a toolkit that increases our ability to assess options, trade-offs, and fairness."-Marc Fleurbaey, Robert E. Kuenne Professor in Economics and Humanistic Studies, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University

The price listed on this page is the recommended retail price for Japan. When a discount is applied, the discounted price is indicated as “Discount price”. Prices are subject to change without notice.