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The Concept 'Merit Good': The Ethical Dimension in Economic Theory and the History of Economic Thought or the Transformation of Economics into Socio-Economics (French)

Опубликовано на портале: 28-10-2007
Journal of Socio-Economics. 2007.  No. 27(1). P. 133-53. 
In this paper, the author points out that economists feel epistemologically obliged to introduce a concept in their science that demonstrates the unavoidability of ethical considerations in economic theory. It is the concept of "merit good." The concept of merit good refers to economic activities in which the state disregards the preferences of consumers (obligatory education, prohibition of smoking). Such activities cannot be justified by the "value-free" principle of "Pareto-efficiency," according to which changes in the economy are unambiguously better if some people are better off and nobody is worse off. The author objects to attempts by economists to reduce the concept of merit good to that of public good, which is conceptualized as obeying the Pareto-principle. Instead, he demonstrate with the help of the history of economic thought (e.g., Adam Smith, Henry Simons), that for the economy to work, to work efficiently, and to work justly a series of institutional arrangements must be imposed. These institutional arrangements fit, in his opinion, the definition of merit good, because they are imposed against the self-interests of some and intend to do so. However, giving the state the right to impose institutional arrangements on the economy, unavoidably raises ethical questions. With Kantian arguments the author demonstrates, first, the instrumental necessity of some institutional arrangements (e.g., property rights) and then end with pointing to the categorical necessity of other institutional arrangements (some forms of public education and some measures of the social welfare state).

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