The Elgar Companion to Social Economics
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The Elgar Companion to Social Economics

Edited by John B. Davis and Wilfred Dolfsma

As this comprehensive Companion demonstrates, social economics is a dynamic and growing field that emphasizes the key role that values play in the economy and in economic life. Social economics treats the economy and economics as being embedded in the larger web of social and ethical relationships. It also regards economics and ethics as essentially connected, and adds values such as justice, fairness, dignity, well-being, freedom and equality to the standard emphasis on efficiency. The Elgar Companion to Social Economics brings together the leading contributors in the field to elucidate a wide range of recent developments across different subject areas and topics. In so doing the contributors also map the likely trends and directions of future research. This Companion will undoubtedly become a leading reference source and guide to social economics for many years to come.
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Chapter 32: Social Law and Economics and the Quest for Dignity and Rights

Mark D. White


Mark D. White The economic approach to law, otherwise known as ‘law and economics’, is by many measures the most successful instance of economic imperialism, the application of economic principles to an ‘outside’ field.1 However, law and economics is very closely tied to traditional, neoclassical economics, both in terms of its consequentialist standard of efficiency, embodied (variously) in Pareto optimality and Kaldor–Hicks efficiency, and its utilitymaximizing economic agent, his choices completely determined by his preferences and constraints. But most social economists take issue with these foundational concepts, both of which reflect a basic ignorance of, or negligence to consider, the humanity and dignity of the persons economists purport to be modeling. This leads neoclassical economists to consider well-being to be just the sum of utilities, with no regard for how those utilities were obtained or their distribution, and to treat the individual as just a cog in the legal machine to be manipulated by policy as a means to furthering the end of efficiency. In the first section of this chapter, I shall introduce the brief social economics literature discussing law and economics. In the second section, I shall outline several key issues of interest to social economists regarding law and economics, focusing on the consequentialist foundations of the field and the resulting ignorance of fundamental human rights and dignity therein. Finally, I shall suggest several future areas of research in law and economics, such as including rights and dignity into the evaluative toolbox of...

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