Economics and Philosophy

Essay

OPPORTUNITY AS MUTUAL ADVANTAGE

Robert Sugdena1

a1 University of East Anglia

Abstract

This paper argues that measurements of opportunity which focus on the contents of a person's opportunity set fail to capture open-ended aspects of opportunity that liberals should value. I propose an alternative conception of ‘opportunity as mutual advantage’ which does not require the explicit specification of opportunity sets, and which rests on an understanding of persons as responsible rather than rational agents. I suggest that issues of distributive fairness are best framed in terms of real income, and that meaningful measurements of real income are possible if opportunity as mutual advantage is ensured.

Robert Sugden is Professor of Economics at the University of East Anglia, Norwich. His research uses a combination of theoretical, experimental and philosophical methods to investigate issues in welfare economics, social choice, choice under uncertainty, the foundations of decision and game theory, the methodology of economics, and the evolution of social conventions. His recent books include The Economics of Rights, Cooperation and Welfare (Palgrave Macmillan, 2nd edn 2004) and, with five co-authors, Experimental Economics: Re-thinking the Rules (Princeton University Press, forthcoming).

Footnotes

An earlier version of this paper was presented at a conference on ‘Identity, community and justice’ at the University of York in May 2007. I thank participants at this conference, an anonymous referee and an editor for constructive comments. My work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council of the UK (award no. RES 051 27 0146).