The Review of Austrian Economics

, Volume 22, Issue 3, pp 209–224 | Cite as

A reformulation of the foundations of welfare economics

  • Randall G. Holcombe


Neoclassical welfare economics takes an outcome-oriented approach that uses Pareto optimality as its benchmark for welfare maximization. When one looks at the remarkable improvements in economic welfare that have characterized market economies, most of those improvements in welfare have been due to economic progress that has introduced new and improved goods and services into the economy, and innovations in production methods that have brought costs down, leading to higher real incomes. Pareto optimality is only peripherally related to actual economic welfare, and no economist would argue that people are materially better off today than a century ago because the economy is closer to Pareto optimality. After analyzing the actual factors that lead to improvements in welfare, this paper suggests a reformulation of the foundations of welfare economics to replace the almost irrelevant outcome-oriented concept of Pareto optimality as the benchmark for evaluating welfare with a process-oriented benchmark based on factors that generate economic progress. The paper then explores some implications of this reformulation.


Welfare economics Pareto optimality Economic growth Economic progress 


B53 D60 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA

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