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The whole premise here is that ET is looking for other moral standards than the default economic one of income and growth measurements. Rawls, however, is still mostly just income and growth. Dimensions of well-being like influencing others don't enter into Rawls' picture. Sen, however, generalizes past things like the standard economic default to what people actually can and want to do with their lives. That seems like a better way to go.
There are two different but mutually reinforcing projects in play here: The first is to emancipate the powerless, if you'll permit the high-flying expression. The second is to alter the way society allocates power to make it less dependent upon economic considerations.
You're talking about the second of those projects. This diary deals with the first. The second is dealt with here.
These two projects are intimately connected, because you work in the society you have, not the one you might like. Railing against an excessively narrow view of the basis for the allocation of power in society does not diminish one's duty to remedy the observed deficiencies in the allocation on the basis of the institutions that actually exist. Nor should remedying the plight of the afflicted in the present be construed as an excuse for failing to reform the underlying institutions.
Political movements that ignore the institutional basis for the problems they identify rapidly peter out into irrelevance after the first generation of activists. On the other hand, political movements that ignore the plight of the present in favour of building a more glorious future after the revolution tend to obtain poor results - I note in passing the IMF's structural adjustment programmes and the idea of bombing Iraq to democracy, and leave the rest of the laundry list of examples as an exercise to the reader.
Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.
Effectively it's an argument against pseudo-monarchy. Which is different to the Anglo concept of freedom and choice which promises that individuals can become pseudo-monarchs through financial acquisition, and as their wealth increases their accountability and the limits on their personal power decrease.
That's why Sen developed the capacity approach. Focusing on equality of capacities to achieve and capacities to be is really the only way to achieve a semblance of equality in even the standard economic measures of well being.
Sen, however, generalizes past things like the standard economic default to what people actually can and want to do with their lives. That seems like a better way to go.
It is, perhaps, not accidental that the most characteristic feature of contemporary US political life has come to be the highly constrained choices with which the electorate is presented and the ease with which those constraints has come to enable the resulting process to serve the interests of the dominant players. The rest of social choice theory seems less relevant, given the prevalence of that effect.
"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
He invented an abstract voting game between three hypothetical electors to determine, mathematically, if it is even possible to conceive of a political economy in neoclassical terms, even given their pretty unrealistic assumptions, and he finds that it is not: The existence of anything like a social welfare function -- that the well-being of a group of three or more people can be honestly conceived of as a single average or summed function -- is a false proposition.
Regarding Sen, "Freedom as Development," is the non-academic, "popular" book which summarizes his ideas pretty well, like "A Brief History of Time" was for Hawking. (The wikipedia entry for that book, unfortunately, was pretty weak, so I'd go to the source instead.)
He [Arrow] invented an abstract voting game between three hypothetical electors to determine, mathematically, if it is even possible to conceive of a political economy in neoclassical terms, even given their pretty unrealistic assumptions, and he finds that it is not:
Well, Condorcet saw it first... ;-)
"Ce qui vient au monde pour ne rien troubler ne mérite ni égards ni patience." René Char
...that the well-being of a group of three or more people can be honestly conceived of as a single average or summed function -- is a false proposition.
How exceedingly interesting.
That's GNP down the rat hole, for starters.
She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
However, GDP, and its cousins GNP and GNI, are still quite useful in summarizing the total amount of market-based economic activity that is going on in an economy, which is their primary function in economics, if not in policy debates. Although many seem to forget their intro macroeconomics by the time they become journalists, it's pretty standard in the field, and in economics instruction, that GDP is useless as a stand alone data point. It only makes sense in the context of other data to judge well-being, power, or economic activity.
Although many seem to forget their intro macroeconomics by the time they become journalists,
That is a natural consequence of always and uncritically using GDP or GDP pro capita as the metric for wealth in all economic exposition except these (usually perfunctory) disclaimers.
One cannot exonerate an academic discipline from perpetuating an error solely by noting disclaimers in first-year textbooks when the same discipline ignores those disclaimers essentially from the point they are made and until you graduate. In fact, reading disclaimers about the non-universal applicability of GDP in the discussion section of a first-year national accounting textbook feels a lot like reading a Quack Miranda: "We have to include a disclaimer about not elevating GDP to the One True Proxy in order to cover our asses. This being done, let's get back to elevating GDP to The One True Proxy."
However, it cannot be denied that there is a strong association between economic well-being of even the poorest sectors of a society and GDP, regardless of how it is measured, particularly when GDP growth is slow or negative, so it would be dishonest to eliminate discussions of GDP from issues of well-being entirely.
I just don't see many economists doing the things you attribute to them. I do see a lot of other people doing it, and I see economists frequently and publicly correcting them when they do. (I just came from the right of center National Association of Business Economists annual meeting, and entire sessions, as usual, were devoted to precisely the topic of the misuse of GDP in policy debate and how to try to correct it.) It's just not the field's fault. It really is the journalists here.
I can see one there. The others seem marginally less relevant.
Section 23 presented recent papers on alternative methods to GDP for measuring economic activity and the drawbacks of GDP and the alternatives to it. This has always been a topic of interest in economics, because of the inherent difficulties in the whole project of defining and measuring an economy and what it means for different people.
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