Matthew D. Adler

Matthew D. Adler

Professor in the Department of Economics

External Address: 
Duke Law School 210 Science Dr, Duke Box 90362, Durham, NC 27708
Internal Office Address: 
Duke Law School Rm 4192, Duke Box 90362, Durham, NC 27708
(919) 613-7172

Matthew D. Adler is the Richard A. Horvitz Professor of Law and Professor of Economics, Philosophy and Public Policy at Duke University, and is the founding director of the Duke Center for Law, Economics and Public Policy. His scholarship is interdisciplinary, drawing from welfare economics, normative ethics, and legal theory.  Adler’s current research agenda focuses on “prioritarianism”—a refinement to utilitarianism that gives extra weight (“priority”) to the worse off. He writes about the theoretical foundations of prioritarianism; its implementation as a policy analysis methodology, in the form of a “social welfare function” or cost-benefit analysis with distributional weights; and its application to a variety of policy domains, including climate change, risk regulation, and health policy.   

Adler is the author of numerous articles and several monographs, including New Foundations of Cost-Benefit Analysis (Harvard, 2006; co-authored with Eric Posner); Well-Being and Fair Distribution: Beyond Cost-Benefit Analysis, which systematically discusses how to integrate considerations of fair distribution into policy analysis (Oxford, 2012); and Measuring Social Welfare: An Introduction (Oxford, 2019), an overview of the social-welfare function approach. With Marc Fleurbaey, he edited the Oxford Handbook of Well-Being and Public Policy (2016). Along with Ole Norheim, he is the co-founder of the Prioritarianism in Practice Research Network, whose work will appear in an edited volume, Prioritarianism in Practice (under contract, Cambridge University Press).

Adler was until 2017 an editor of the journal Legal Theory, and is now an editor of Economics and Philosophy.

Prior to joining the Duke Law faculty in 2012, Adler was the Leon Meltzer Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law. He has been a visiting professor at Bar-Ilan University, Columbia University, Duke, the University of Chicago, and the University of Virginia.   In addition to his Duke appointment, Adler currently holds a 3-year position as the Ludwig M. Lachmann Professorial Research Fellow at the London School of Economics.

Adler has a B.A. and J.D. from Yale University, where he was a member of the Yale Law Journal. He also received an M. Litt. in modern history from St. Antony’s College at Oxford University, where he was a Marshall Scholar. He clerked for Judge Harry Edwards of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 1991-1992 and for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor during the 1992-1993 term. Adler practiced litigation at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York prior to joining the University of Pennsylvania law faculty in 1995.


  • J.D., Yale University 1991
  • M.Lit., University of Oxford (United Kingdom) 1987
  • A.B., Yale University 1984

Adler, M., and N. Treich. “Utilitarianism, Prioritarianism, and Intergenerational Equity: A Cake Eating Model.” Mathematical Social Sciences 87 (2017): 94–102.

Adler, Matthew D., David Anthoff, Valentina Bosetti, Gregory Garner, Klaus Keller, and Nicolas Treich. “Priority for the Worse Off and the Social Cost of Carbon.” Cesifo Working Paper Series, no. 6032 (August 14, 2016).

Adler, M. “Benefit-Cost Analysis and Distributional Weights: An Overview.” Review of Environmental Economics & Policy 10, no. 2 (2016): 264–85.

Adler, M. “Aggregating Moral Preferences.” Economics & Philosophy 32, no. 2 (2016): 283–321.

Adler, M. “Behavioral Economics, Happiness Surveys, and Public Policy.” Journal of Benefit Cost Analysis, 2016.

Adler, M., and M. Fleurbaey. “Introduction,” 2016, 1.

Adler, M. “Equity by the Numbers: Measuring Poverty, Inequality, and Injustice.” Alabama Law Review 66, no. 3 (2015): 551–607.


Adler, M., and M. Fleurbaey. Oxford Handbook of Well-Being and Public Policy. Oxford University Press, 2016.

Adler, M. Well-Being and Fair Distribution: Beyond Cost Benefit Analysis. Oxford University Press, 2012.

Adler, M., and K. Himma. The Rule of Recognition and the Constitution. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Adler, M., and E. Posner. New Foundations of Cost-Benefit Analysis. Harvard University Press, 2006.

Adler, M., and E. Posner. Cost-Benefit Analysis: Legal, Economic, and Philosophical Perspectives. University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Adler, M. “Extended Preferences.” In Oxford Handbook of Well-Being & Public Policy. Oxford University Press, 2016.

Adler, M. “Welfarism, Equity, and the Choice Between Statistical and Identified Victims.” In Identified Versus Statistical Lives: An Interdisciplinary Perspective, 53–76, 2015.

Adler, M. “Value and Cost-Benefit Analysis.” In The Oxford Handbook of Value Theory, 317–37. Oxford University Press, 2015.

Adler, M. “The Ethical Value of Risk Reduction: Utilitarianism, Prioritarianism and Cost-Benefit Analysis.” In Ethics & Risk Management, 9–29. Information Age Publishing, 2015.

Adler, M. “Cost-Benefit Analysis.” In Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Social Sciences, 2013.

Adler, M. “Happiness, Health and Leisure: Valuing the Nonconsumption Impacts of Unemployment.” In Does Regulation Kill Jobs?, 150–69, 2013.

Adler, M. “Regulatory Theory.” In A Companion to Philosophy of Law and Legal Theory, 590–606, 2010.

Adler, M. “Bounded Rationality and Legal Scholarship.” In Theoretical Foundations of Law and Economics, 2009.

Adler, M. “On (Moral) Philosophy and American Legal Scholarship.” In On Philosophy in American Law, 114–21, 2009.

Adler, M. “Social Facts, Constitutional Interpretation, and the Rule of Recognition.” In The Rule of Recognition and the U.S. Constitution, 2009.


Adler, M. “Inequality of What?Oupblog, 2016.

Adler, M. “Cost-Benefit Analysis and Social Welfare Functions.” Regblog, 2016.