Journal of Social Policy


Economic Welfare and Social Justice*

Nicholas Barra1

a1 Lecturer in Economics, London School of Economics and Political Science.


Two results are established in this paper. First, economic efficiency is an appropriate aim of policy under most definitions of social justice, including those of libertarians, utilitarians, Rawls and socialists; an increase in efficiency, in other words, can raise social welfare under all these theories of social justice. Second, when production is fixed, no distribution can be socially just unless it is also efficient. Though the weight it is given will vary under different definitions of social justice, economic efficiency is therefore not simply a constituent aim of utilitarianism, but an important goal, whatever one's ideology. Considerations of efficiency are therefore of general relevance to the formulation of social policy.


* I am grateful to Tony Atkinson. Howard Glennerster, Julian Le Grand. Kurt Klappholz, Alan Prest and an anonymous referee for helpful comments on an earlier version. Remaining errors are my responsibility.