From economic choice to social choice in coastal management: A critical assessment of the use of cost-benefit analysis in the evaluation of an erosion control project in Flagler County, Florida, U.S.A.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Sustainable development remains of general interest in both political and academic circles. Importantly, the approach to collective decision making adopted in pursuit of sustainable development has importance repercussions regarding what range of possible informational considerations get incorporated as relevant to a given choice exercise. The most dominant approach to environmental public policy assessment, which I discuss under the rubric of economic choice, is interested in maximizing utility, measured in monetary metrics, and evaluates alternatives using cost-benefit analysis (CBA). CBA is a process which requires the quantification and monetization of all relevant considerations, a tendency which some critics suggest makes the outcomes of this technique inaccurate, exclusionary and negligent of the question of distribution. While these criticisms are practically important, they are also theoretically manageable within the economic choice approach, requiring improvements in its use rather than its abandonment. In contrast, I advance a different kind of criticism aimed at identifying contradictions internal to the economic choice approach itself which can only be resolved by rejecting its basic assumptions and replacing them with better ones. In particular I point to the inadequacy of the underlying assumption inherent in economic choice that income is a satisfactory representation of human well-being. Instead, drawing on Amartya Sen's capabilities approach, I argue for the superiority of conceptualizing well-being in terms of the substantive freedoms and capabilities people actually have to pursue lives they have reason to value. This alternative approach, which I discuss under the rubric of social choice, has the capacity to incorporate informational considerations emphasized by economic choice; however, it is superior to economic choice because it can also incorporate a wide range of other informational considerations based on a plurality of reasons; that is, without the need to reference their contribution to income metrics specifically. The economic choice approach and social choice approach are compared and contrasted both theoretically and practically in relation to a coastal erosion control project currently being planned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Flagler County, Florida, U.S.A.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Water Engineering


  • Decision making, Development as freedom, Immanent criticism, Sustainable development
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-99
JournalOcean and Coastal Management
Early online date2017 Sep 22
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Publication categoryResearch

Related research output

Chad Boda, 2018, Lund: Lund University. 294 p.

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)

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