Tag Archives: sen

Best-worst capabilities endorsed

Wow. In this article Will Hutton interviews Amartya Sen. A crucial quote:

“…you have to take in, somehow, the unattractiveness of the last as well as the attractiveness of the first candidate.”


Wow, quantifying the worst as well as the best?

Which group has been at the forefront world-wide of doing this?

Yep, we’ve been way ahead of our time.

top economists fail basic literature review shock horror

So, via a blog I follow, I learn that four economists have invented how to operationalise valuing well-being using stated preference discrete choice tasks.

One problem with that. They haven’t. We did it – at least, using the “Sennian stated preference approach” they follow, we did – others did so using health-related quality of life even earlier. Over 10 years ago. They either fail an undergraduate literature review or they are simply liars.

So, Daniel Benjamin, Miles Kimball, Ori Heffetz, and Nichole Szenbrot,  which is it?

The article was published in the American Economic Review, that bastion of “wonderful economics that proved so able to predict real life events”.

I shall simply reproduce the comments I made to Mike Norman, who posted the link to it. I left academia – partly because of clowns like these who run the profession. Thus I am under no obligation to go through every single piece of rubbish or already proven stuff they present.

Thurstone (1927) provided the statistical basis of what they propose – Random Utility Theory. If we are looking for an economist who made a real contribution to the field we need look no further than McFadden, the (co) winner of the “Economics Nobel” in 2000 for showing how this could predict demand (the BART in California – BEFORE it was even built!)

However, all the theory was also developed in mathematical psychology in the 1960s by Duncan Luce and Tony Marley (who is still active in the field, and with whom I have the honour of co-authoring).

Using this to elicit the public’s preferences for aspects of well-being (and specifically operationalising Sen’s approach) is NOT new. There are various groups who have been doing it for close to two decades. A lot of the early work limited itself to health-related quality of life, but work to value general well-being, including fully operationalising Sen’s Capabilities Approach, was well underway by 2006 by the group in which I was working. I see no references to that work by these authors. Again, I find it staggering that mainstream economists can get away with such poor reviews of the literature – but again, the literature in which we published all this stuff is literature they don’t consider “worthy”.

I could go through their article point by point demolishing the out of date rubbish they propose (preferences with descriptors such as “somewhat prefer” which have been shown to be rubbish in the marketing and applied economics literature and which are of no use in PREDICTING AN ACTUAL CHOOSE/NOT CHOOSE DECISION) but I now work in industry and have better things to do. My clients would not give their stuff a single glance, let alone a second one.

Some references showing how to do this using methods that have a 90 year pedigree are given below. It is a shame these “proper” economists do not see fit to reference them. And people wonder why I left academia? My first reference is a text-book that includes a chapter detailing work done several years ago demonstrating what they want to do, and with much better methods.

I find it astonishing that mainstream economists are STILL trying to pass off other people’s original work as their own, when it becomes clear their stuff is rubbish.



Best-Worst Scaling: Theory, Methods and Applications (2015). Louviere JJ, Flynn TN, Marley AAJ. Cambridge University Press.

A law of comparative judgment (1927). Thurstone, L. L. Psychological Review 34, 273-286

Conditional logit analysis of qualitative choice behaviour (1974). Frontiers in Econometrics (Zarembka P – ed); 105-142.

Developing attributes for a generic quality of life measure for older people: Preferences or capabilities? (2006) I Grewal, J Lewis, T Flynn, J Brown, J Bond, J Coast. Social science & medicine 62 (8), 1891-1901

Best-worst scaling: What it can do for health care research and how to do it. (2007) TN Flynn, JJ Louviere, TJ Peters, J Coast. Journal of Health Economics 26 (1), 171-189

Probabilistic models of set-dependent and attribute-level best-worst choice (2008). AAJ Marley, TN Flynn, JJ Louviere. Journal of Mathematical Psychology 52 (5), 281-296

Quantifying response shift or adaptation effects in quality of life by synthesising best-worst scaling and discrete choice data (2013). TN Flynn, TJ Peters, J Coast. Journal of choice modelling 6, 34-43

Using discrete choice experiments to understand preferences for quality of life. Variance-scale heterogeneity matters (2010). TN Flynn, JJ Louviere, TJ Peters, J Coast. Social Science & Medicine 70 (12), 1957-1965

Valuing the ICECAP capability index for older people (2008). J Coast, TN Flynn, L Natarajan, K Sproston, J Lewis, JJ Louviere. Social Science & Medicine 67 (5), 874-882

Developing attributes for a generic quality of life measure for older people: Preferences or capabilities? (2006) I Grewal, J Lewis, T Flynn, J Brown, J Bond, J Coast. Social science & medicine 62 (8), 1891-1901