Calabresi on Merit Goods

Desmarais-Tremblay, Maxime. 2019. Calabresi on Merit Goods. Global Jurist, 19(3), p. 20180053. ISSN 1934-2640 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

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.

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Identification Number (DOI):


merit goods, Guido Calabresi, Richard A. Musgrave, Law & Economics

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Institute of Management Studies


6 March 2019Accepted
29 October 2019Published Online

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Date Deposited:

30 Oct 2019 10:56

Last Modified:

15 Jan 2020 17:48

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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