THE EVIDENTIAL SOLUTION?
Discussing the debate between Hausman & McPherson and Sarch about the saviour of welfare economics.
Cost-benefit analysis is the most prominent tool welfare economists use to advice on social policy. Taking willingness-to-pay as proxy for preferences, cost-benefit analysis relies on the view that wellbeing is the satisfaction of preferences. Hausman and McPherson argue that this view must be rejected. This essay explores Hausman and McPherson’s argument that, although preference satisfaction theory is mistaken, reliance on preferences in cost-benefit analysis can be justified by an evidential connection between preferences and well-being. This piece also considers a critical reaction from Alexander Sarch, who argues that the evidential connection is not yet enough to justify the reliance on preferences.