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The Uses Of Utilitarianism: Social Justice, Welfare Economics And British Socialism, 1931- 48

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The utilitarian case for economic equality achieved wide political currency on the British Left during the 1930s. This article examines the reasons for this ideological shift by considering the influence of the distributive prescriptions of welfare economists on British socialists in this period. It clarifies the relationship between efficiency and equity in these writings by analysing the response of socialists to the methodological criticisms of this approach made by Lionel Robbins and others. It is suggested that in their attempts to draw upon the language of economic theory, such utilitarian egalitarians have more in common with contemporary writers on social justice than we might initially think.
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Keywords: Diminshing Marginal Unity; economic efficiency; equality; interpersonal utitlity comparisons; labour party; social democracy; social justice; socialism; utilitarianism; welfare economics

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2004

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