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, environmental issues affecting the future, the case for growth, the economics of happiness and the costs and benefits of saving or destroying lives.

Full module specification

Module title:Economics and Ethics
Module code:BEE2030
Module level:2
Academic year:2020/1
Module lecturers:
  • Professor John Maloney - Convenor
  • Dr Giancarlo Ianulardo - Lecturer
Module credit:15
ECTS value:



BEE1029 or BEE1034 or BEE1036 and BEE1037 or BEE1030 and BEE1031



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


Module aims

All economic policymaking 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. understand the difference between positive and normative 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

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 5. communicate effectively in written English
  • 6. demonstrate 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 (11x2 hours)
Scheduled Learning & Teaching activities1010x1 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
Exam + EssayExam (100%) 2 hours1-6August

Re-assessment notes

Students who fail the module will be re-assessed on the exam only.

Students who are granted a deferral will be re-assessed in the deferred component.

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?

  • 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

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