The Behavioral Welfare Economist in Society

Considerations from David Hume

Originally published in Review of Behavioral Economics

We draw on David Hume’s essays on happiness to extend ideas about welfare, preferences, and the social role of behavioral welfare economists in Mario Rizzo’s and Glen Whitman’s (2020) Escaping Paternalism. Through literary dialogue, Hume illustrates that individuals have different perspectives on the good life. These perspectives cannot be resolved by the philosopher or the economist. Hume’s sensibilities dovetail with Rizzo’s and Whitman’s notion of inclusive rationality, which implies an open-ended conception of welfare. Hume’s dialogical treatment of the good life has political implications. We take these implications to be a useful expression of Rizzo’s and Whitman’s “paternalism-resisting framework.” The paper concludes with a discussion of Hume’s vision of the proper role of the philosopher in society. That vision extends Rizzo’s and Whitman’s sense that the behavioral economist ought to view herself as a friendly social advisor in conversation with fellow citizens. 

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