Analyses of applied problems and the nature of public interest in them is used to motivate and strengthen the examination of the informational base of welfare economics and choice theory. Particular attention is paid to the neglect in traditional welfare economics of considerations other than utility, including freedoms, rights, and liberties, on the one hand, and also health and morbidity, in which the public take a prominent and direct interest. Similarly, the concentration of traditional rational choice theory on intelligent pursuit of self-interest leads to the neglect of other norms and values, such as loyalty, commitment, and fairness, which figure more prominently in public understanding of actual motives for action. These perceptual features require critical scrutiny and discriminating assessment in the light of their practical relevance as well as conceptual viability. The results of the theoretical investigations will be applied to the study of policy responses to global environmental change. Public discussions of environmental issues are often dominated by alleged violations of rights and entitlement, and also by fear of increased illness and death in addition to forecasts of economic disasters. These concerns sometimes serve as the basis of unifocal recommendations and fairly extreme solutions based on assessments involving the neglect of other aspects of the problem. This project accepts the legitimacy of these concerns and then links them with other concerns, with reasoned assessment of defendable trade-offs and relative weights. Public discussions of global warming are often much influenced by the rhetoric of equity and justice, e.g., between poor countries than cannot easily afford to pay for the proposed policies and rich ones that are seen as having an obligation to help. Since the gap between rhetoric and political feasibility can be quite large, it can lead to proposals that deflect discussion from what might really be possible to do. Equity considerations are important and will be integrated within a framework of rational assessment and informed political discussion, making them less ambitious but possibly more effective.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Daniel H. Newlon
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Harvard University
United States
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