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 46: Needs and Well-being

Des Gasper


Des Gasper Needs language has three central functions. The first is to make analyses of motivation richer and more realistic, extending our explanatory repertoire beyond ‘economic man’. The second is to elucidate instrumental roles and connections in means-ends analyses. The third is to help to structure and humanize policy prioritization and extend our evaluative repertoire beyond measures such as per capita income. In all of this, needs language attempts a communicative function too: to support explanatory, elucidatory and normative work by providing frames that are simple but robust enough to be widely usable yet not too misleading in routine professional and political discourse. The concepts of ‘need’ and ‘needs’ are correspondingly pervasive: in everyday discourse, in public policy, especially social policy (see, for example, Witkin and Altschuld 1995; Brazelton and Greenspan 2000), in management and marketing (see, for example, Jackson et al. 2004) and in international policy areas such as humanitarian aid and the Millennium Development Goals. They have a long history in humanistic economics (Lutz and Lux 1988) and parts of welfare economics (for example, Pigou 1920), even if different words have sometimes been used for the same concepts (Amartya Sen, interviewed in Weiss et al. 2005, p. 240). Needs language is hard to order, because its roles are major, widespread and varied. Pervasive use has been frequently accompanied by casualness and obscurity. That misuse, together with currents opposed to any notion of publicly determined priorities rather than only market-determined ones, has led to frequent opposition to the category...

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