Wealth, Welfare, and Well-being: Essays on Indebtedness and Normative Analysis

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Wealth, Welfare, and Well-being: Essays on Indebtedness and Normative Analysis

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Title: Wealth, Welfare, and Well-being: Essays on Indebtedness and Normative Analysis
Author: Robert, Christopher LeBaron
Citation: Robert, Christopher LeBaron. 2012. Wealth, Welfare, and Well-being: Essays on Indebtedness and Normative Analysis. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: Broad swaths of humanity have become richer, healthier, and better educated. More of the world’s poorest have access to affordable credit, enabling them to invest in a better future. But what are the consequences? Does greater wealth or greater access to credit make people happier or more fulfilled? This dissertation presents essays on the relationship between wealth and well-being, the welfare effects of both debt and debt relief, and the kinds of normative analysis that help to inform good public policy. The first essay, The Methodology of Normative Policy Analysis (joint with Richard Zeckhauser), concerns disagreements in policy analysis and discourse. It provides a simple taxonomy of disagreement, identifying distinct categories within both the positive and values domains of normative policy analysis. Using disagreements in climate policy to illustrate, it demonstrates how illuminating the structure of disagreement helps to clarify the way forward. It concludes by suggesting a structure for policy analysis that can facilitate assessment, comparison, and debate by laying bare the most likely sources of disagreement. The second essay, Wealth and Well-being, tests a fundamental prediction of economic theory: that greater wealth causes greater well-being. It uses a natural experiment to estimate the causal effect of income on subjective well-being. Among a population of indebted farmers in rural India, the marginal effect of income on life satisfaction is found to be positive. However, the source of income appears to exert an important and independent effect. In this study the source is agricultural debt relief, which features a positive marginal effect but also a countervailing negative effect (perhaps due to stigma). The third essay, Moral Hindrance, argues that the total cost of default borne by low-income borrowers, including social, psychological, and other sanctions, is likely to be excessive, giving rise to sub-optimal borrower risk-taking and excessive borrower effort. I call this the moral hindrance problem, to distinguish it from the moral hazard problem often presumed by economists. The essay argues that policy should promote competition among lenders, encourage broader use of collateral, and allow interest rates to rise as necessary to meet borrower demand for varying loan conditions.
Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:10288498
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