chapter  3
26 Pages

Defi ning the Good: Benefi t

Perhaps the most widely-accepted assumption in the assessment of public policy is that we want policies to provide benefi ts to some or all members of a society. Indeed, for some observers, creating benefi t is the sole goal in the making of policy. 1 Public policy is concerned with increasing the well-being of people and good policies are the ones that produce this result. Such understandings about policy evaluation are so common, in fact, that it is all too easy to agree that policies or policy proposals should be judged by the benefi t they create without attending to some fundamental questions about the nature of the concept of benefi t. The preamble of our Constitution expresses the intent to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” But what are those blessings? We should be asking such questions as: What is a benefi t? Who decides whether a particular result is benefi cial and on what grounds should they make that decision? How should we measure different, incommensurable benefi ts?