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date: 26 September 2017

Abstract and Keywords

Many economists are reluctant to confront ethical issues directly, saying that whether an action is good or bad requires value judgments best left to philosophers. But that disclaimer rings hollow. Economics, after all, was founded by moral philosophers, and links between the disciplines remain strong. Today’s economists are actually well positioned to contribute useful insights on ethical questions. This chapter attempts to defend three simple claims: (1) that the emphasis on narrow self-interest in economic models has had some regrettable side effects; (2) that cost–benefit analysis can help shrink the scope of disagreement about whether the recent rise in income inequality is morally worrisome; and (3) that the emphasis on ordinal preferences has handicapped economists’ thinking about a broad range of ethical choices.

Keywords: cost–benefit analysis, costs of income inequality, ordinal preferences, self-interest models, value-free ethical judgments

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