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Should Preferences Count?

By Mark Sagoff

Abstract

As a normative discipline, welfare and therefore resource economics postulates that preferences should count in the allocation of resources. This postulate cannot be justified in relation to choice or to well-being. The normative qualities that attend choices-e.g., accountability, responsibility, commitment, and consent-explain why choices should count, but not preferences, which are not actions but theoretical entities constructed ad hoc from stipulated descriptions of behavior they are then said to explain. The satisfaction of preferences, moreover, has no demonstrable relation with any conception of welfare or well-being not simply defined in terms of it.

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