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Well-Being and Fair DistributionBeyond Cost-Benefit Analysis$
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Matthew Adler

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780195384994

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195384994.001.0001

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The SWF Approach and Its Competitors

The SWF Approach and Its Competitors

(p.57) 2 The SWF Approach and Its Competitors
Well-Being and Fair Distribution

Matthew D. Adler

Oxford University Press

This chapter begins by introducing the social welfare function (SWF) approach. It then goes on to criticize the competing approaches to policy analysis that are currently dominant. Although SWFs are in fact used by some scholars for purposes of evaluating actual government policies—particularly within the scholarly field of optimal tax policy—other approaches are currently much more widespread, both among scholars and in governmental practice. The dominant frameworks are: cost-benefit analysis; inequality metrics, such as the well-known “Gini coefficient”; other equity metrics, in particular poverty metrics, social-gradient metrics, and tax incidence metrics; and QALY-based cost-effectiveness analysis. The chapter critically examines these various frameworks from the perspective of welfarism. It argues that each framework either fails to furnish an attractive basis for constructing an impartial, Pareto-respecting, quasi-ordering of an outcome set, or achieves this goal only by functioning as a variation on the SWF approach.

Keywords:   social welfare function, policy analysis, government policies, cost-benefit analysis, inequality metrics, equity metrics, QALY-based cost-effectiveness analysis, welfarism

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