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Welfare Economics and Social Justice


Welfare Economics and Social Justice

Chaire Marc Fleurbaey

The Chair on Welfare Economics and Social Justice is devoted to the study of ethical issues about society and public policy, with applications to the measurement of well-being , redistributive policy, health policy, and climate change. The main topics in the research program of the chair are the following:

  • the measurement of well-being and social welfare, with the specific ambition of taking account of the preferences, values, and priorities of the populations;
  • rational and fair decisions in the presence of collective risks, with the specific goal of combining a concern for inequalities in the final consequences with a concern for fairness and respect for preferences in the assessment of risky prospects for each member of society;
  • the evaluation of climate policies, which requires not just addressing the hot debate on discounting, but, more broadly, dealing simultaneously with three difficult issues: the very long term, the presence of global and idiosyncratic risks, and the ethics of population;
  • the ethics of health policy, addressing both the application of cost-benefit analysis to the health sector, and the measurement of unfair inequalities in health and health care;
  • redistributive policies, with the specific objective of exploring how the new theory of fair social choice, which proposes more precise objectives than the classical utilitarian approach, induces new conclusions about the optimal tax.

General background

Evaluation is fashionable, and affects not only individuals at work, but also communities, countries, and the world. However, in the field of "social" or "societal" evaluation, if a large part of the difficulty of the evaluation relates to the appreciation of the real state of affairs or to understand the causal chain of events , a no less essential difficulty is to use the right criteria. Two pitfalls must be avoided. The first is the belief that the criteria are obvious - there are glaring injustices, for example - the second is that the criteria are merely a matter of preference of the evaluator or decision-maker. In reality, many possible criteria compete and point in opposite directions (for instance, to identify the most disadvantaged and the best way to improve their lot), and politicians, as well as the public debate, need some light on the foundations and challenges.

The disciplines of moral and political philosophy and normative economics have developed a corpus whose purpose is to explore the links between the core values (equality, freedom, solidarity, respect...) and specific criteria (principles of distributive justice , measures of social welfare, inequality and poverty). Both disciplines are competing but also share some of the work, economics using formal methods and focusing on concrete models of resource allocation. The cross-fertilization between them is fruitful, each being an inspiration for the other.
There is a significant social demand for measures of social welfare, inequality, poverty, and for evaluation criteria about public policy. International organizations, governments, social movements and actors ask for indicators to guide action and evaluate results. Momentum has gathered in various initiatives of the United Nations, the OECD, some countries (Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission in France, Gross National Happiness in Bhutan ...), and the pressure of social actors. International bodies such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change combine the findings of hard sciences with social and economic analysis of policy-making, with a special attention to the ethical underpinnings of sustainable development and equity. There is also more diffuse but perhaps deeper demand to find a hope and long-term perspective of social progress. Marx's claim to offer such a perspective from a purely objective observation of historical development must give way to a reflection that combines the identification of possibilities with the definition of appealing goals.

Academically, normative economics has strong networks (Social Choice and Welfare is the name of a journal and a learned society, and there are other nearby networks around the conference Logic, Game and Social Choice, New Directions in Welfare Economics and journals such as Journal of Public Economics, Journal of Public Economic Theory and Review of Economic Design, Economics and Philosophy, Philosophy, Politics and Economics, or the Human Development and Capabilities Association). The objective of the chair is to contribute to invigorating and promoting this field.

Coordination : Stéphane Zuber