Handbook of Economics and Ethics
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Handbook of Economics and Ethics

Edited by Jan Peil and Irene van Staveren

The Handbook of Economics and Ethics portrays an understanding of economic methodology in which facts and values, though distinct, are closely interconnected in a variety of ways. From theory building to data collection, and from modelling to policy evaluation, this encyclopaedic Handbook is at the intersection of economics and ethics.
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Chapter 39: Justice

Serge-Christophe Kolm


Serge-Christophe Kolm Economics as ethics and economic justice Economics is a moral and normative science. It always has been. A large part of economics is ethics, applied ethics and often pure ethics as with social choice, theories of economic fairness or justice and concepts of economic inequality and poverty. Economics is, indeed, almost the only normative social science (alongside social ethics or political philosophy if this field is classified as a social science). The values economics classically uses and analyses are liberty and welfare. Liberty can be an end value (notably concerning basic rights, the free market and possibilities of choice) or a means to welfare. However, recent ‘normative economics’ (of which ‘welfare economics’ is but a subfield) analyses and applies a large variety of usual or new ethical concepts. Since economics – stricto sensu – is the study of the allocation of goods to people, normative economics, and economic ethics, are practically co-extensive with the concepts of economic, distributive and social justice. However, the direct evaluations bear not only on end-state distributions of goods or satisfactions, but also often on the processes that lead to them, in ‘procedural justice’, as with free exchange – a case of Aristotle’s ‘commutative justice’ – or fair processes of numerous possible kinds and all types and scales of application. Economic justice is the answer to the question ‘who should have what?’ It draws the moral boundaries between people’s self-interests. Sentiments and claims of economic injustice and the indignation they arouse are a main fuel of social...

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