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Welfare Economics. ECON 205W Summer 2006 Prof. Cunningham. What is it?. A branch of economics concerned with discovering the principles for maximizing social welfare. Issues Heyday of Welfare Theories: 1900-1955. Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923). Founder of modern welfare economics

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welfare economics

Welfare Economics


Summer 2006

Prof. Cunningham

what is it
What is it?
  • A branch of economics concerned with discovering the principles for maximizing social welfare.
  • Issues
  • Heyday of Welfare Theories: 1900-1955.
vilfredo pareto 1848 1923
Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923)
  • Founder of modern welfare economics
  • Based on Walrasian General Equilibrium
  • Background
  • 1906, Manual of Political Economy
  • Most famous contribution: “Pareto Optimality”
    • Maximum welfare = no change could make anyone better off without making someone worse off.
pareto 2
Pareto (2)
  • Implications:
    • Optimal income/output distribution
    • Optimal technical efficiency
    • Optimal technical allocation of resources
    • Optimal output (Maximal output)
  • Occurs when:
    • All agents have identical marginal rates of substitution between pairs of goods
    • Firms optimize
    • Marginal rates of technical substitution between factors are equal
    • Marginal rates of substitution between each pair of goods = marginal rates of transformation
pareto 3
Pareto (3)
  • Problems:
    • Does not really address distributive justice.
    • Analysis is static.
arthur cecil pigou 1877 1959
Arthur Cecil Pigou (1877-1959)
  • Marshall’s successor, master of neoclassical economics.
  • Chair of political economy at Cambridge from 1908 to 1943.
  • Takes a softer view toward a larger role government
  • 1920, The Economics of Welfare
    • Method
    • Makes case for income distribution
    • Theory of externalities
pigou 2
Pigou (2)
  • Saving is critical. Do not encourage people to consume.
    • Do not tax saving, property, or bequests.
    • Avoid progressive income tax.
    • Tax consumption (sales tax)
  • Macroeconomics of Keynes
    • Pigou effect (real balance effect)
john atkinson hobson 1858 1940
John Atkinson Hobson (1858-1940)
  • Background
  • Most mainstream economists, including Keynes, thought his work was mostly flawed and confused.
  • Strong supporter of government intervention.
  • Argued that excessive saving, deficient demand, might result in macroeconomic recessions.
  • Solution is income redistribution.
ludwig von mises 1881 1973
Ludwig Von Mises (1881-1973)
  • Background
  • 1912, Theory of Money and Credit
  • 1949, Human Action
  • 1922, Socialism
  • 1956, Theory and History
  • Distinguished Fellow of the AEA
  • Von Mises Institute at Auburn
von mises 2
Von Mises (2)
  • Argues against socialism.
oscar lange 1904 1965
Oscar Lange (1904-1965)
  • Background.
  • 1937, On the Economic Theory of Socialism
    • Advocates “market socialism”
    • Shows that theoretically socialism can work
    • Von Hayek argues that the informational assumptions are prohibitive.
lange 2
Lange (2)
  • Market socialism is characterized by:
    • Private ownership of consumer goods and free choice of consumption from available goods (cons. choice)
    • Free choice of occupation
    • State ownership of the means of production
    • Markets for goods, services, and labor, but not for capital and intermediate goods
    • A central planning board sets the prices of capital goods by changing prices to eliminate shortages and surpluses.
    • Workers are paid a market wage plus a share of the social dividend (yield on capital and natural resources)
lange 3
Lange (3)
  • The central planning board instructs the managers of the state enterprises to act as if prices are constant, and follow two rules:
    • Combine resources so as to minimize the average cost of production by setting the MRTS equal.
    • Set MC=P to set output level.
lange 4
Lange (4)
  • Friedrich von Hayek and other neo-Austrians argued against Lange’s model in the face of the collapse of socialist economies around the world. Their arguments were:
    • It has proved difficult to achieve efficiency in large economies through central planning. Achieving this requires much more information than is available to planners.
    • Lange’s Socialism does not give participants sufficient incentive to allocate resources efficiently or pursue opportunity.
    • The market economy handles these problems easily.
kenneth arrow 1921
Kenneth Arrow (1921- )
  • Graduated from Columbia, moved to Stanford.
  • Known for his ability in symbolic logic, mathematics, and statistics.
  • Dissertation, Social Choice and Individual Values.
    • Evaluates various criteria of social welfare.
  • Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem: No majority voting scheme simultaneously respects the personal preferences of the voters, ensures maximum welfare, and does not depend upon the order that the issues are voted upon.
arrow 2
Arrow (2)
  • Four criteria for voting:
    • Social choices must accurately reflect the preferences of the individual voters;
    • Social choices must be transitive;
    • The group choice must not be dictated by anyone inside or outside the community;
    • A social preference made between two alternatives must depend only on preferences toward the two alternatives, and not on people’s opinions of other options.
james buchanan 1919
James Buchanan (1919- )
  • Founder of public choice theory and constitutional economics (the economics of rules).
  • Middle Tennessee State and Chicago. Studied under Frank Knight.
  • Moved to University of Virginia, later to Virginia Tech, and then to George Mason University.
  • Coauthered The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy with Gordon Tullock, 1962. Thought it was pretty obvious stuff.
buchanan 2
Buchanan (2)
  • Public Choice
    • The pursuit of self-interest leads to spontaneous order through exchange.
    • Question: If individuals seek self-interest in the market, why would we expect them to seek social interest in or through government?
    • Human nature is human nature. People seek out self-interest no matter what the organization or arena.
    • The public sector is also driven by self-interest; moving a problem to the public sector does not avoid competition or self-interest. It simply changes the way self-interest is expressed or is manifested.
buchanan 3
Buchanan (3)
  • Some results of this:
    • Helps explain the collapse of communism.
    • Explains the deficit bias in industrial nations.
    • Explains logrolling—the exchange of votes among politicians.
    • Explains rent-seeking behavior.
buchanan 4
Buchanan (4)
  • Critique of conventional welfare economics:
    • Government officials are sometimes viewed as pursuing a social welfare function.
      • Individual preferences are known only to individuals. No one can discern a collective or social welfare function.
      • Even if the social welfare function were known, the public sector could not be relied upon to pursue it. The people in the public sector would be pursuing their own interests.
      • There is “government failure” as well as “market failure.”
buchanan 5
Buchanan (5)
  • Constitutional Economics
    • We need government to establish and enforce property rights rules, contracts, etc.
    • There is also a need for constitutional rules to constrain the state.
    • Supermajority rules, etc.