Review of Behavioral Economics > Vol 8 > Issue 3-4

The Behavioral Welfare Economist in Society: Considerations from David Hume

Erik W. Matson, Mercatus Center at George Mason University, USA, , Malte Dold, Economics Department, Pomona College, USA,
Suggested Citation
Erik W. Matson and Malte Dold (2021), "The Behavioral Welfare Economist in Society: Considerations from David Hume", Review of Behavioral Economics: Vol. 8: No. 3-4, pp 239-258.

Publication Date: 09 Dec 2021
© 2021 E. W. Matson and M. Dold
Behavioral Economics,  Bounded rationality,  Psychology,  Biases,  Routines,  Happiness,  Political economy,  Public opinion,  Public policy,  Regulation
JEL Codes: B12, D91, I31
Behavioral welfare economicspaternalismDavid Humeinclusive rationalitypublic deliberation


Open Access

This is published under the terms of CC-BY.

In this article:
1. Introduction 
2. Dialoguing about Happiness 
3. The Political Implications of Hume’s Happiness Essays 
4. Hume’s Qualified Theory of Happiness 
5. Philosophy as a Scene of Conversation 
6. Conclusion 


We draw on David Hume’s essays on happiness to extend ideas about welfare, preferences, and the social role of behavioral welfare economists in Mario Rizzo’s and Glen Whitman’s (2020) Escaping Paternalism. Through literary dialogue, Hume illustrates that individuals have different perspectives on the good life. These perspectives cannot be resolved by the philosopher or the economist. Hume’s sensibilities dovetail with Rizzo’s and Whitman’s notion of inclusive rationality, which implies an open-ended conception of welfare. Hume’s dialogical treatment of the good life has political implications. We take these implications to be a useful expression of Rizzo’s and Whitman’s “paternalism-resisting framework.” The paper concludes with a discussion of Hume’s vision of the proper role of the philosopher in society. That vision extends Rizzo’s and Whitman’s sense that the behavioral economist ought to view herself as a friendly social advisor in conversation with fellow citizens.



Review of Behavioral Economics, Volume 8, Issue 3-4 Special Issue: Escaping Paternalism: Articles Overiew
See the other articles that are part of this special issue.