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Normative economics and paternalism: the problem with the preference-satisfaction account of welfare

Cyril Hédoin

Constitutional Political Economy, 2017, vol. 28, issue 3, 286-310

Abstract: Abstract The normative turn of behavioral economics has led to a reconsideration of paternalism in normative economics. This article argues however that the preference-satisfaction account of welfare that still dominates welfare economics makes impossible to account for all the dimensions of the debate over paternalism. The laundered preferences approach and the alternative selves approach are two available frameworks to reconcile the consumer sovereignty principle that underlies the preference-satisfaction account with the fact that preferences are endogenous and context-dependent. I show however that neither of them is able to account for autonomy-related issues which are central in current debates over “soft” or “libertarian” paternalism. I suggest that a justification of paternalism compatible with liberal principles depends on the ability for reasonable persons to voluntarily consent to a collective choice rule with paternalistic tendencies. This argument relies on a distinction between preferences (which can be attached to other entities than persons) and values which is unknown to welfare economics.

Keywords: Normative economics; Paternalism; Preference-satisfaction account; Autonomy; Values; Behavioral economics (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2017
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Handle: RePEc:kap:copoec:v:28:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s10602-016-9227-5