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Morality and Power

On Ethics, Economics and Public Policy

Mike Berry

Offering a compelling critique of orthodox economic analysis in the public realm, Mike Berry exposes the lack of development in economic thinking in public policy since the economic crisis of 2008. Focusing on both the ethically unacceptable outcomes of recent public policy and the threat of populism and rising nationalism, this book offers noteworthy suggestions for an alternative social democratic future. Both students and practitioners of heterodox economics and public policy will find this a compelling insight into the ethical concerns and social impacts raised by the political ascendency of neoliberal policies in recent decades.
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Chapter 3: Bentham’s legacy

Mike Berry

Extract

Chapter 3 discusses the influential work of the British legal scholar and philosopher, Jeremy Bentham. His book An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, published in 1789, laid down the classical theory of utilitarianism, arguably the first secular attempt to divorce morality from a theological base. Later philosophers and political economists, notably, Sidgwick, J.S. Mill and Francis Edgeworth developed and modified Bentham’s work. However, none succeeded in resolving certain difficulties associated with the impossibility of measuring utility in ways that allowed aggregation over actions, time frames and people. The chapter goes on to discuss how modern economics came to transform the Benthamite calculus into a system of rational choice based on an ordinal concept of utility, while developing a particular but limited notion of cardinal utility.

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