Introduction and Overview
This chapter provides an overall introduction to, and overview of, the whole book. It starts by framing the purpose of good public policy as improving the wellbeing of individuals and communities. Wellbeing is defined in terms of people’s abilities to live the kinds of lives they have reason to value. Public policy can pursue its purpose by focusing on improving the capabilities and opportunities (i.e., substantive freedoms) of individuals and communities to pursue the lives they wish to live. This in turn requires an increase in, accompanied by a broadening access to, “comprehensive wealth”. We ask, and answer, the question of why we need public policy at all in this context. Our answer is much wider than the one that is based on the standard “market failure” argument. Following an explanation of the several justifications for public policy, we specify the domains of public policy in terms of the dimensions of a collective “wellbeing frontier”. This is then followed by a discussion of appropriate policy instruments, including institutions, that can be used to extend this frontier. The common thread that runs through the chapter, as well as the whole book, demonstrated with the help of examples and numerical simulations, is the interaction between environmental, social, and economic influences on wellbeing. The chapter ends with an overview of the relevant empirical evidence.