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Matthew Adler uses interdisciplinary approach to examine well-being and fair distribution

February 21, 2012

In Well-Being and Fair Distribution: Beyond Cost-Benefit Analysis, Matthew Adler (Oxford University Press), Leon Meltzer Professor of Law at Penn Law, systematically examines how to integrate considerations of equality and fair distribution into government policy analysis. In the book provides a rigorous and comprehensive defense of the “social welfare function” arguing particularly for a “prioritarian” social welfare function: one that gives greater weight to well-being changes affecting worse-off individuals. In doing so, the book draws on many literatures: in theoretical economics, applied economics, philosophy, and law.

On Monday, March 19 at 4:30 p.m. Prof. Adler will participate in a book symposium at Penn Law, open to faculty and students.

Professor Adler sat down with Penn Law’s Communications Department to talk more about his book.



Faculty Book: Matthew Adler's Well-Being and Fair DistributionI’m Matthew Adler, the Leon Meltzer Professor at University of Pennsylvania Law School. The book, which just came out is Well-Being and Fair Distribution: Beyond Cost-Benefit Analysis. Basically, what it tries to talk about in a systematic way is how to do policy analysis in a manner that is sensitive not just to total costs and benefits but to fair distribution - to equality.

Cost-benefit analysis is a technique that has been used a lot. It is used by the U.S. government, it’s used increasingly by other governments, to think about policies and regulations. But cost-benefit analysis itself is not sensitive to distribution; it simply looks at total costs and benefits as opposed to looking at how those are distributed across the population.

So, what the book is trying to do is to think systematically about how incorporate these considerations of distribution into cost benefit analysis. And it does that using something called the social welfare function. Which is an idea has been around for a while in scholarship, various bodies of scholarship, which talk about talk about this idea of the social welfare function. But what this book tries to do is to bring together economics, philosophy, and the law… to try to provide sort of a synthetic, comprehensive, elaboration of this idea of the social welfare function as a way to think about policy making so as to be sensitive to distribution.


This transcript was edited for length.