Skip to main content


Economics and Ethics

Module description

All economic policy involves the application of value judgements to positive propositions about the consequences of alternative actions. This module studies economic policy to determine how these value judgements are, and should be, formed. Areas include distribution, international and intergenerational justice, environmental issues affecting future generations, the case for growth, the economics of happiness and the costs and benefits of saving or destroying lives.

The assessment structure on this module is subject to review and may change before the start of the new academic year. Any changes will be clearly communicated to you before the start of term and if you wish to change module as a result of this you can do so in the module change window.

Full module specification

Module title:Economics and Ethics
Module code:BEE2030
Module level:2
Academic year:2023/4
Module lecturers:
  • Professor John Maloney - Convenor
Module credit:15
ECTS value:



BEE1029 or BEE1034 or BEE1036 and BEE1037



Duration of module: Duration (weeks) - term 1:


Duration (weeks) - term 2:


Duration (weeks) - term 3:


Module aims

All economic policy making involves applying value-judgements to positive analysis of the consequences of alternative policies. We currently study the latter intensively but not the former. This module will fill the gap. It is also aimed to contribute towards your employability by increasing your literacy and capacity for logical thought.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. explain clearly the difference between positive and normative and judgements and where each one applies;
  • 2. identify the ethical presuppositions concealed in policy decisions.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. demonstrate expertise in welfare economics and cost-benefit analysis;
  • 4. apply the economics of equality, happiness and distribution;
  • 5. distinguish clearly between the different concepts of justice and equality (e.g. income, wealth, dignity).

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 5. communicate effectively in written English;
  • 6. demonstrate ability in logical thinking.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning & Teaching activities22Lecture (11 x 2 hours)
Scheduled Learning & Teaching activities1010 x 1 hour exercises / experiments / seminars
Guided Independent Study118Reading, research and reflection. Preparation for lectures, coursework and exam

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Individual Presentations10 minutes, delivered in seminars 1-6Verbal comments by tutor & other students

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay202000 words maximum (no minimum)1-6Written
Exam802 hours 1-6Examiners will explain their mark to students if this is requested

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay (20%)Essay (20%)1-6August/September Reassessment Period
Exam (80%)Exam (80%) (2 hours)1-6August/September Reassessment Period

Syllabus plan

  • Positive economics and value judgements. How complete is the separation between the two?

  • Does welfare economics depend on utilitarianism?  Should it do so more or less than it does at the moment?

  • Can we make interpersonal comparisons of utility?  What are the ethical consequences of acting as if we can / we can’t?

  • GDP and other measures of welfare. Which one should we choose? Do we need to choose between them at all?

  • Happiness economics. Should happiness be the goal of economic policy?

  • Consumerism versus a good life. Why do so many intellectuals want people to have less?

  • Is there anything ethical or unethical about free markets or are they just another way of delivering the goods?

  • How can we define equality? Is equality desirable? How much and what kind?

  • Comparing theories of distributive justice (Mill, Hayek, Rawls, Nozick etc.)

  • International distributive justice. Have rich countries an obligation to help poor ones? What about extraterrestrial life (if found)?

  • Intertemporal distributive justice. What rate of discount should we apply to the interests of future generations?

  • How should life be valued and where does this lead in policy terms?

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:


Wilfred Beckerman Economics as Applied Ethics, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011

Module has an active ELE page?


Origin date


Last revision date