Itai Sher

Associate Professor

Department of Economics

University of Massachusetts Amherst

Editor Economics & Philosophy

My research is on the boundary of ethics and economics.

Freedom of choice

In economics, we often evaluate policies and institutions by how well they satisfy preferences. Another criterion concerns the opportunities that people have. We can value opportunities directly — not just as a means to the end of preference satisfaction. My research models the value of opportunities formally. My paper Freedom and Voting Power founds voting power measures on measures of freedom of choice. An accessible summary of some of the issues involved can be found in a post at the LSE Business Review blog. Additional research on this topic can be found here and here.

Reasons for preferences

In economics, preferences are often taken as given, and it is assumed that satisfying preferences is good. But there are better and worse reasons to prefer things. Preferences admit of justification. My research models reasons for preferences formally and argues that the normative status of preferences depends on the reasons that support them. My paper, Comparative Value and the Weight of Reasons, forthcoming in Economics & Philosophy presents a model of how to aggregate the weights of different reasons. Work on how the normative status of preferences depends on reasons can be found here. I am currently engaged in an empirical study of how people’s preferences over tax policies depend on normative principles that they endorse.

Normative ethics and welfare economics

I am a cofounder and coorganizer of a conference series on Normative Ethics and Welfare Economics. The goal is to bring economists and philosophers together to discuss normative issues on the boundary of ethics and economics. Previous conferences took place at the Becker Friedman Institute at University of Chicago (2014), the Harvard Business School (2016), and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania (2018). The next conference will be at Duke University in 2020.