When Individual Preferences Defy Sustainability — Can Merit Good Arguments Close the Gap?

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In this paper, we discuss how merit good arguments may contribute to discussions about sustainability. To this end, we clarify how merit good arguments deviate from individual preferences and relate the justification for deviations from individual preferences to two conceptions of well-being: an informed preference satisfaction and a perfectionist conception. Building on this framework, we analyze how merit good arguments can be helpful for discussing sustainability as justice, what challenges merit good arguments pose to future generations, and whether they can serve as a normative justification for green nudges. The analysis yields two main insights. First, a reflection on the concept of merit goods is helpful in sorting out the different justifications that sustainability interventions may rely on. In particular, it allows separating the challenges of redistribution, internalization of externalities and increasing individual consumption of particular (merit) goods such as health care or education more clearly. Second, the precise notion of merit goods by itself, however, only offers a limited contribution and does not represent a blank check to justify deviations from individual preferences.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEcological Economics
Pages (from-to)286-293
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 01.01.2018