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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter October 29, 2019

Calabresi on Merit Goods

Maxime Desmarais-Tremblay ORCID logo
From the journal Global Jurist

Abstract

Guido Calabresi has been one of the first scholars to use the concept of merit goods coined by Richard A. Musgrave in The Theory of Public Finance (1959). Although the concept had a mixed reception in economics, Calabresi detected its fruitfulness for a more realistic theorisation of the allocation of goods. Starting from a study of the tragic choices a society needs to make concerning the value of life, Calabresi provides an original conceptualisation of merit goods which is partly complementary to the classical definitions given by Musgrave. However, Calabresi’s conceptualisation is limited by its cost/benefit welfarist approach. Moreover, it leaves out important strands of justification for merit goods. After some preliminary remarks on Calabresi’s encounter with Musgrave, the paper analyses Calabresi’s two arguments for merit goods exposed in The Future of Law & Economics (2016). It then suggests that a theory of merit goods would gain from moving away from the emotivist conceptualisation according to which people feel bad about certain goods being traded for money to a conceptualisation of the reasons for allocating specific goods to specific institutions.

Acknowledgements

This paper was presented at a workshop on Guido Calabresi's The Future of Law & Economics at the International University College of Turin on 8 May 2018 organised by Aleksandar Stojanovic and Paolo Silvestri. I want to thank Péter Cserne, Marco Giraudo, Alain Marciano and an anonymous referee for their feedback on my paper.

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Published Online: 2019-10-29

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