Welfare Economics and Social Justice
Published at 29 September 2016
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:
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
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