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Accounting for “Quality” in Economics

Cfp for a special issue of Œconomia

Editors of the Special Issue
Spencer Banzhaf (North Carolina State University)
Christian Bessy (IDHES, École Normale Supérieure Paris-Saclay)
Erwin Dekker (Mercatus Center, George Mason University)
Julien Gradoz (CLERSÉ, Université de Lille)
JeanSébastien Lenfant (PRISM, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne)
Stéphan Marette (INRAE, AgroParisTech)

Ever since the marginalist revolution, economics has developed as the study of equilibria in various market structures and informational contexts. According to this view, price and quantity of goods and services (assumed to be measurable) are the only two variables to be accounted for in the study of market coordination. Within this framework, it is presupposed that the nature of the goods and services being exchanged is either known from the outset or expected to vary only within  predetermined, measurable boundaries (such as firms’ location, for instance). Over the last century, the most influential schools of thought have each applied this view on their own terms, and theoretical as well as methodological debates have been bounded by this common tenet that the goods to be traded are determined previously to market coordination. Challenging this established tenet has been—and still is—one of the most complex and demanding tasks for economists to address. It is also one of the most necessary.

One such way out of this tenet revolves around the introduction of quality as a third variable to be accounted for in market coordination, leading to the more sophisticated statement that buyers and sellers of qualitatively differentiated goods are both maximizing and objective. However, any attempt to introduce quality in economic theory—whether as an additional variable or in place of quantity—raises analytical difficulties and fundamental questions: Is quality measurable and how? Is there a given objective gamut of such qualities and what makes it objective? What does quality actually mean? Is this definition amenable to some kind of market coordination analysis or does it call for alternative institutions to be established? What are the consequences of introducing quality for welfare evaluations? Are there shared principles to account for quality in economic policy? What have we learned from empirical studies on quality and market structures?

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Researchers who would like to be considered for participation in this special issue of Œconomia should submit, via email attachment, the title of their paper, an extended (1,000-1,500 words) abstract, and the affiliations of all authors. This information should be sent to by March 30, 2024, at the latest.