Abstract

The proposition that interpersonal comparisons of utility are impossible has been part and parcel of mainstream economics for almost a century. These days, the proposition is invoked inter alia in arguments against happiness-based measures of well-being, which often average happiness scores across populations in an effort to represent social welfare. In this talk, I will argue that interpersonal comparisons of utility are in fact implicit in most traditional economic social welfare measures as well; if such comparisons are problematic, then, the problem is not unique to happiness-based measures. Fortunately, however, I will argue but that the proposition is a piece of zombie methodology: a methodological prescription that should have been dead and buried a long time ago. Social welfare measures have many problems, but interpersonal comparisons isn’t one.