NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Behavioral Welfare Economics

B. Douglas Bernheim

NBER Working Paper No. 14622
Issued in December 2008
NBER Program(s):   PE

This paper discusses several competing proposals for general normative frameworks that would encompass non-standard models of choice. Most existing proposals equate welfare with well-being. Some assume that well-being flows from the achievement of well-defined objectives, and that those objectives also guide choices; the trick is to formulate a framework in which less-than-completely coherent choice patterns reveal the unobserved objectives. Others are predicated on the contention that well-being, and hence welfare, is directly measurable. Both of those approaches encounter serious conceptual difficulties. An alternative approach, developed by Bernheim and Rangel [2009], defines welfare directly in terms of choice. It entails a generalized welfare criterion that respects choice directly, without requiring any rationalization involving potentially unverifiable assumptions concerning underlying objectives and their relationships to choice. Because useful behavioral theories generally envision a substantial degree of underlying coherence in behavior, that criterion leads to a rich and tractable normative framework.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w14622

Published:

  • B. Douglas Bernheim, 2009. "Behavioral Welfare Economics," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 7(2-3), pages 267-319, 04-05. citation courtesy of
  • B. Douglas Bernheim, 2010. "Behavioral welfare economics," Panoeconomicus, Savez ekonomista Vojvodine, Novi Sad, Serbia, vol. 57(2), pages 123-151, June. citation courtesy of
  • B. Douglas Bernheim, 2010. "Behavioral welfare economics," Panoeconomicus, Savez ekonomista Vojvodine, Novi Sad, Serbia, vol. 57(1), pages 1-22, March.

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