This chapter is a brief introduction to Measuring Social Welfare. The book provides an overview of the social welfare function (SWF) framework for assessing governmental policy. This introductory chapter motivates the framework via some stylized examples of policy choices involving environmental protection, redistributive taxation, infrastructure planning, climate change, and health policy. These examples illustrate recurring features of policy choice: that policies affect multiple dimensions of individual well-being; have “losers” as well as “winners”; produce a range of well-being changes (losses or gains) to individuals starting at a range of well-being levels; and may require a tradeoff between overall well-being and inequality. The SWF framework is able to take account of these recurring features of policy choice, and is applicable to a wide range of policy domains.
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