UCL Department of Economics


ECON0074 - Ethics in Welfare Economics

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In this course we shall explore the ethical issues and assumptions underlying standard welfare economics.  

These include:

  • the moral significance of consumers’ sovereignty, the aggregation of consumers preferences in the concept of the social welfare function;
  • the boundaries of the ‘society’ in whose welfare we are interested;
  • the relationship between GDP and some concept of ‘happiness’;
  • and aspects of distributive justice. 

They will be examined in the light of some main ethical theories, such as utilitarianism, libertarianism, and egalitarianism.  The overall aim of the course, therefore, is to provide students with an understanding of the problems of applying ethical theories to major contemporary economic problems.


At the end of the course, students should

  • have a good appreciation of the way that both positive economics and value judgements enter into the formulation of economic policy;
  • understand the link between the relevant value judgements and major ethical theories that have a bearing on them, and feel comfortable about  the role of these theories in welfare economics;
  • be able to analyse and comment on economic policy texts and debates that  combine ethics and economics.
Taught by:Joanna Pasek
Assessment:20 one-hour lectures, supplemented by 4 compulsory tutorial classes and written essays, followed by a 2-hour unseen written examination in Term 3.
Suitable for:Graduate students   
Prerequisites:It is not available for students who have taken the 3rd year UCL undergraduate course ECON0033 on ‘Ethics in Applied Economics’
A prerequisite is UCL’s ECON0065, Microeconomics, or some comparable course elsewhere that includes some basic welfare economics theory. 
Some familiarity with philosophical concepts would be an advantage but is not essential.
Moodle page:ECON0074