Yew-Kwang Ng

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Yew-Kwang Ng (Chinese: 黄有光; born 1942) is a Malaysian-Australian economist. Ng is a Professor of Economics at Fudan University, Shanghai, and a Distinguished Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia. He has published in a variety of academic disciplines and is best known for his work in welfare economics.



  • I myself regard enjoyment and suffering (defined more broadly to include milder pain and discomfort) as not only the most important, but ultimately the only important things. Freedom, knowledge, and so on are all important but only because they ultimately promote net welfare (enjoyment minus suffering). Even if they do not completely agree with this strong view regarding enjoyment and suffering, most people will accept that enjoyment and suffering are the most important considerations. Given their importance, the amount of scientific research devoted to them is dismally inadequate. The neglect is partly due to the methodological blunder, which prevents the publication of important results on things that are difficult to measure precisely.
    • Yew-Kwang Ng, The Case for and Difficulties in Using “Demand Areas” to Measure Changes in Well-Being, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 13(1): 30 (1991).
  • I have also no difficulties saying that my welfare level is positive, zero, or negative. When I am neither enjoying nor suffering, my welfare is zero. Thus, the value of my welfare is a fully cardinal quantity unique up to a proportionate transformation. I am also sure that I am not bestowed by God or evolution to have this special ability of perceiving the full cardinality (both intensity and the origin) of both my welfare and preference levels. In fact, from my daily experience, observation, and conversation, I know that all people (including ordinalist economists) have this ability, except that economists heavily brainwashed by ordinalism deny it despite actually possessing it. This denial is quite incredible. If your preference is really purely ordinal, you can only say that you prefer your present situation (A) to that plus an ant bite (B) and also prefer the latter to being bodily thrown into a pool of sulphuric acid (C). You cannot say that your preference of A over B is less than your preference of B over C. Can you really believe that!
    • Yew‐Kwang Ng, A Case for Happiness, Cardinalism, and Interpersonal Comparability, The Economic Journal, 107(445): 1852 (1997).
  • Though […] feelings are subjective to the sentient concerned, they exist objectively. That my toothache is subjective to me does not make it non-existent.
    • Yew-Kwang Ng, Towards Welfare Biology, Biology and Philosophy, 10: 259.
  • One way to see the unacceptability of welfare-independent rights is to ask the question ‘why Right X?’ to a very ultimate level. If the answer is ‘Right X because Y’, then one should ask ‘Why Y?’ For example, if the answer to ‘why free speech?’ is that people enjoy free speech, it is already not welfare-independent. If the answer is free speech deters dictatorship’, then we should ask, ‘Why is it desirable to deter dictatorship?’ If one presses hard enough with such questions, most people will eventually come up with a welfare-related answer.
    • Yew-Kwang Ng, Welfarism and Utilitarianism: A Rehabilitation, Utilitas, 2(2): 180 (1990).
  • [T]he real per capita income of the world now is about 7-8 times that of a century ago. If we proceed along an environmentally responsible path of growth, our great grandchildren in a century will have a real per capita income 5-6 times higher than our level now. Is it worth the risk of environmental disaster to disregard environmental protection now to try to grow a little faster? If this faster growth could be sustained, our great grandchildren would enjoy a real per capita income 7-8 times (instead of 5-6 times) higher than our level now. However, they may live in an environmentally horrible world or may well not have a chance to be born at all! The correct choice is obvious.
    • Yew-Kwang Ng, Happiness Studies: Ways to Improve Comparability and Some Public Policy Implications, The Economic Record, 84(265): 261-262 (2008).
  • [W]hile the problem of interpersonal comparability of utility is a tricky one, it is not insoluble in principle. It is conceivable that, perhaps several hundred (or a thousand) years from now, neurology may have advanced to the stage where the level of happiness can be accurately correlated to some cerebral reaction that can be measured by a ‘eudaimonometer’. Hence the definition of social welfare [in terms of the sum total of individual happiness] is an objective definition, although the objects are the subjective feelings of individuals.
    • Yew-Kwang Ng, Welfare Economics: Towards a More Complete Analysis (2004). Basingstoke: Hampshire, p. 4
  • As there are many areas of inadequate optimization (departures), and resource limitation and information costs prevent the rectification of all these departures, the pursuit of a more desirable future through either private effective altruism or governmental policies is subset to the challenge of the second-best theory (where the presence of uncorrectable distortions complicates the pursuit of desirable policies elsewhere through interdependence)...Despite the nihilistic implication of the second-best theory on the impossibility of piecemeal welfare policies...the third-best theory shows that the government or effective altruists may increase at least the expected welfare by focusing on areas of serious inadequate optimization, taking into account the indirect effects if information allows.
    • Yew-Kwang Ng, Effective Altruism Despite the Second-best Challenge: Should Indirect Effects Be Taken into Account for Policies for a Better Future?, Futures, 121 (2020).
  • With adequate safeguards and cautious preparation, genetic engineering could be used to relieve suffering and increase happiness by quantum leaps. Our short-term prospect here would be the eradication of many genetic handicaps. The medium-term prospect could be the reduction of the proportion of the neurotic and depressed personality. The longer-term prospect might be the dramatic enhancement of our capacity for enjoyment. All these have to be done with extreme caution. The reason we should be very cautious is not so much to avoid sacrificing our current welfare (which is relative small in comparison to that in the future with brain stimulation and genetic engineering) but to avoid destroying our future.
    • Yew-Kwang Ng and Siang Ng, The Road to Happiness, Ch. 7.


  • In my view...intrinsically, happiness is the only thing that is of value. Other things may have instrumental value. For example, we suffer now to achieve something, we study to pass the exam and we suffer during the process. But it helps you to learn something or to get your degree and then you can do something better. So it contributes to future welfare, which again is happiness. So something may be of instrumental value, that is instrumental to achieve something else of value. Ultimately, only happiness is of value. And the fact that happiness is of value, everyone knows. Because everyone enjoy the nice feeling of being happy...That’s my main moral philosophical stance.
  • In China, until about 100 years ago people believed that if your husband died, no matter how young you were, you could not remarry. They thought that violating ‘chastity’ was obviously immoral – you didn’t have to justify this in terms of happiness! But I think this is very bad. Today many believe that it is only foolish, ancient people who think such silly things – modern people no longer do. For that particular idea, yes. But even now...throughout the world we still hold many such traditional beliefs which are similarly detrimental to happiness!
  • When people’s income are low and at the survival, starvation level, then having enough to eat just to survive is very important. But once you are beyond the survival, and some level of comfort, then recent happiness studies show that further increase in consumption in income is not that important to increase your happiness. And hence in my view, the more important issue...would be environmental economics. Because we are facing an environmental problem, which could become a catastrophe for the world. It could cause global extinction. Then that means that helping the world to survive — to overcome say the climate change crisis — in my view this is the most important area in economics.
  • paper argues that most animals' welfare are negative. It’s based on some axioms which may or may not be true. But if they are true then I think that we humans have an obligation to help our unfortunate, unlucky cousins to escape their miserable situations. While we cannot help them fully now, in the future, when we are more advanced economically, scientifically and ethically, then I think we should help to decrease their suffering. But even now, I’m in favor of helping to decrease their suffering for those measures that do not cost us too much. Especially for those animals that we farmed for our food...We should improve the conditions of, say, farmed chickens, who are suffering, so that the chickens we farm enjoy positive instead of negative welfare. In my view, that can be done at negligible if not zero costs to humans.

Quotes about Ng[edit]

  • Yew-Kwang Ng is one of Australia’s mostimportant and best internationally known economists. In the course of a prolific career dedicated to an economic study of the human condition, Yew-Kwang Ng has made numerous contributions that have had a significant and lasting impact. He has contributed to areas ranging from the economics of happiness to division of labour, and from the environment to the economics of human evolution...
    In the judgement of the few who may have a claim to represent our profession, Yew-Kwang Ng is ‘one of the leading economic theorists of his generation’ [according to Nobel Laureate Kenneth Arrow], with a ‘remarkable research record’ [according to Nobel Laureate James Mirrlees], who has made ‘major contributions in theoretical Welfare Economics’ [according to Nobel Laureate James M. Buchanan].

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