By Alvin J. Harman

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Since World War II, this so-called new welfare economics has become the conventional view enshrined in a myriad of theoretical treatises and textbooks. The idea that utility should be cardinally measured in order to explain individual choices has been given up completely in favor of ordinal utility. In order for utility to be reflected in revealed behavior, individuals are required to be well (or even completely) informed, aware of the choices made, and consistent in their wishes. Utility has just become a number without any further substantive meaning whatsoever.

Indeed, the concept of individual real income or expenditure only translates into real national income if the nation is taken to be a person—which, of course, it is not. Therefore, even in a narrowly utilitarian sense, a higher level of GNP does not necessarily deliver more aggregate welfare (Sen 1979). (b) The national product considers marketed goods and services. It thus excludes a large part—if not the major part—of social activities. Thus, the services produced in private households, as well as all other interpersonal relationships not based on money, are not measured.

Economic Journal 107(445): 1832–47. Ng, Yew-Kwang (1997). A Case for Happiness, Cardinalism, and Interpersonal Comparability. Economic Journal 107(445): 1848–58. Oswald, Andrew J. (1997). Happiness and Economic Performance. Economic Journal 107(445): 1815–31. More recent contributions are, for instance, Di Tella, Rafael, Robert J. MacCulloch, and Andrew J. Oswald (2001). Preferences over Inflation and Unemployment: Evidence from Surveys of Happiness. American Economic Review 91(1): 335–41. , and Alois Stutzer (1999).

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