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Welfare, the Stoics, and Reference Dependence



Economic accounts of consumer welfare focus on the physical circumstances of consumers. In contrast, in many religious and philosophical traditions, welfare is thought to be largely independent of physical circumstances. This essay argues that the introduction of reference dependence enriches economic models of choice in a way that connects the economic account of welfare with the contrasting account offered by the Stoics. The Stoics wrote about the relationship between wealth and welfare, and the model of choice implicit in their writings involves comparison of consumption to a reference. When reference dependence appears in economic models, options for consumption are chosen after evaluation through comparison to a reference. For the Stoics, however, the reference itself was an object of choice. Choosing the right reference allowed the Stoics to achieve contentment even in adverse circumstances.

Daniel R. Wilmoth, "Welfare, the Stoics, and Reference Dependence," Journal of Markets & Morality 20, no. 2 (Fall 2017): 299-310

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