[Note 13 February 2007: I wrote this in 2003 and now think that the idea that welfare can be measured is fundamentally mistaken.
Strictly speaking it is impossible without a set of value judgements about what people need and/or what is good for them. These are not fundamentally scientific judgements.
My view that it is inappropriate for people to use terms like “measuring welfare” or “measuring poverty” has been strengthened not only by
a) thinking about other things than material resources, but also by
b) an appreciation of the complexity of issues relating to assessing material resources themselves.
Even in the most narrow material sense, in the real world, people do not consume or own things which have easily-comparable values across time or place.
If we add that to the fact that their needs may reasonably be said to vary significantly, we get quite a few difficulties].
Do studies of income inequality
tell us how well or badly poor people did in economic terms?
Does the Millennium Goal statistic on poverty reduction tell us how well or badly poor people did?
The answer to these questions is no. This publication explains why.
One reason is that these economic statistics - and the traditional theory of welfare economics - fail to count staying alive as a benefit.
Another is that they fail to take account of the cost of
The reliability of economic data on the world’s poor people is unknown, for a range of technical reasons.
The simple and cheap option for measuring their progress is to measure how long they live.
Jeffrey Sachs/WHO Commission on
Macroeconomics and Health, 2001
Email: matt (at) mattberkley (dot) com
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