Equity and Choice: An Essay in Economics and Applied Philosophy

Equity and Choice: An Essay in Economics and Applied Philosophy

Equity and Choice: An Essay in Economics and Applied Philosophy

Equity and Choice: An Essay in Economics and Applied Philosophy


Offering a new answer to an age-old problem: the meaning of a just or equitable distribution of resources, Julian Le Grand examines the principal interpretations of equity used by economists and political philosophers. He argues that none captures the essence of the term as well as an alternative conception relating equity to the existence or otherwise of individual choice.

Le Grand shows that this conception is not only philosophically well-grounded but is also directly relevant to key areas of distributional policy. His theoretical argument is complemented by detailed discussion of the application of the central idea to specific areas of policy, including the distribution of health and health care, central government grants to local governments and the measurement of income for tax purposes.

Equity and Choiceis written by an economist, but is intended for political philosophers and social policy analysts as well as economists. Hence the key chapters are written in a non-technical fashion, with specialized material relegated to appendices. This book is a unique combination of philosophical, economic and policy analysis and represents a major contribution in all three areas.


Policy-makers in all societies have values or objectives that inform the making of social judgements and hence guide the making of social decisions. For most societies, these are likely to include attaining an efficient use of scarce resources, and the promotion of an equitable or just distribution of those resources. Other values, too, will affect social decision-making, such as the preservation of individual and collective security and the promotion of individual liberty or freedom.

Properly to take account of all these objectives in the formulation of economic and social policy requires that they be specified in as precise a fashion as possible. Hence, welfare economists and other policy analysts have often found themselves on the terrain of political philosophers in attempting to develop appropriate interpretations of the values involved: interpretations that are both sufficiently general to command a broad consensus and sufficiently specific to permit useful application.

This task has been far from easy. To obtain a consensus on a value-judgement at any other level than the banal is notoriously difficult; to obtain it for an objective that is sufficiently specific to be useful for policy purposes might be considered impossible. Yet some success has been achieved with respect to at least one policy aim: that of efficiency. For several decades there has been a definition that has commanded a wide measure of consensus, at least among economists: that of Pareto-efficiency (or optimality). An allocation of

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