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date: 30 November 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Economists have long recognized that virtually all economic policy interventions that they advocate entail foreseeable and/or unforeseeable harm to some economic actors, even while promising benefits for others. And yet there is no tradition in economics that explores carefully the harm that economists cause as they try to do good. “Iatrogenic harm” (from the Greek, “doctor-originating”) refers to the harm that results from medical practice. This chapter proposes the term “econogenic harm” to name the harm that results from economic practice. Despite the ubiquity of econogenic harm, economists have failed to give a good account of the complex nature of economic harm or to wrestle with its ethical entailments. Instead, economists have relied too eagerly on the Kaldor-Hicks compensation test, often operationalized through cost-benefit analysis, as a sufficient ethical guide for their own conduct in policy formation. But Kaldor-Hicks cannot serve the ethical purposes to which it has been put.

Keywords: econogenic harm, economic harm, Kaldor-Hicks compensation test, compensable vs. noncompensable harm, reparable vs. irreparable harm, rights violations, normative vs. positive economics

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