On Balance

August 14, 2019

By Thomas J. Kniesner

In the following interview I asked Richard Zeckhauser to recount what it was like to be part of the “Whiz Kids,” the name given to a group of experts with which Robert McNamara (then Secretary of Defense and later President of the World Bank) surrounded himself in order to turn around the management of the United States Department of Defense in the 1960s. The group sought to shape government decision making by bringing in economic analysis, operations research, game theory, and computing, as well as by implementing new methods, such as Planning Programming Budgeting System (PPBS). Their efforts did a lot to extend and solidify the influence of the principles of benefit cost analysis in U.S. Federal government decisions.

July 10, 2019

By: Deven Carlson

The field of benefit-cost analysis is replete with guidance on theoretical and empirical valuation of impacts. Many fewer resources, however, are available for analysts to consult when determining the set of policy impacts to value in the first place. This post describes a new article published with co-authors Joseph Ripberger, Wesley Wehde, Hank Jenkins-Smith, Carol Silva, Kuhika Gupta, Benjamin Jones, and Robert Berrens, in the Spring 2019 Issue of the Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis. The article, entitled, ‘Benefit-Cost Analysis, Policy Impacts, and Congressional Hearings,’ proposes a method for identifying policy impacts that contributes a degree of systematism, transparency, and replicability to the process.

June 26, 2019

By: Ann Wolverton

Academic researchers and government institutions have both encouraged retrospective analysis of the costs and benefits of regulation to facilitate evidence-based review and possibly revision of the design and stringency of existing regulations (White House 2012; Morgenstern 2015). However, rigorous examples of these types of ex post analyses are relatively rare. This post describes a study comparing the retrospective costs (evaluated ex post) of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation to the cost estimates reported during the regulatory process (calculated ex ante). These findings are reported in more detail in a recent article, “Retrospective Evaluation of the Costs of Complying with Light-Duty Vehicle Surface Coating Requirements,” published in the Spring Issue of the Journal of Benefit Cost Analysis, with co-authors Nathalie Simon and Ann E. Ferris.

June 12, 2019

By: Rob Moore

Since Ronald Reagan’s 1981 Executive Order 12291 established benefit-cost analysis as standard practice for major rule changes, benefit-cost analysis has been commonly used to assess the efficiency of proposed federal regulations. Because of this and subsequent executive orders, all federal regulations that are projected to have a total economic impact of over $100 million are subject to a full benefit-cost analysis. Despite this prevalence at the federal level, benefit-cost analysis is much less common at the state level. In 2013, the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative released a study of the use of benefit-cost analysis in the states (study results were subsequently reported in the Journal of Benefit Cost Analysis in 2015). The study found that, over the four years from 2008 to 2011 states conducted only 36 full cost benefit analyses and 312 partial cost-benefit analyses. This averaged out to 9 full analyses and 78 partial analyses per year across all 50 states.

May 29, 2019

By: Bethany Davis Noll

Administrative agencies, courts, and litigants are just coming off two years of intense debates over the legality of agency deregulation through delay. One fascinating development has been how significant cost-benefit analysis has been in these debates. Cost-benefit analysis has formed the basis for several important court losses suffered by the administration. (See Air Alliance 2018; California 2017.) Now agencies have proposed to repeal many big-ticket rules, including the Clean Power Plan, the Clean Water Rule, and vehicle emissions standards. A key question is what role cost-benefit analysis will play in the upcoming legal battles over repeals.

Keith Belton,Manufacturing Policy Initiative in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA), Indiana University John Graham, Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs

May 15, 2019

By: Keith B. Belton and John D. Graham

In his campaign for the US presidency, candidate Donald Trump advocated widespread deregulation of the US economy. Upon taking office, President Trump quickly issued policies to fulfill his campaign promises. Midway through his term, it is fair to ask: Is deregulation being accomplished?

Clark Nardinelli, SBCA, On Balance, JBCAMay 15, 2019

By: Clark Nardinelli

The 2019 Annual Conference and Meeting of the Society for Benefit-Cost Analysis took place March 13-15 at George Washington University’s Marvin Center. The conference was attended by 329 friends of benefit-cost analysis, the largest number of attendees since the first conference in 2008. The attendees were treated to a cornucopia of benefits and costs, eminent speakers, and good conversation.

Society for Benefit-Cost Analysis

April 25, 2019

By: On Balance Editorial Staff

As the founding editor of On Balance, I wish we could review every new book of interest to our readership. We can, at least, point out some—of numerous—insightful books that are released. The editorial staff have identified these books that are a bit off the beaten track of Benefit-Cost Analysis, but yet might have some interesting lessons.

April 10, 2019

By: Jonathan Skinner

When researchers and policy analysts consider the benefits of expanding health insurance coverage, they understandably focus first on the health benefits, such as reduced infant mortality, increased longevity, lower rates of illness, and improved quality of life. However, access to insurance also lowers financial risk exposure—i.e., it protects the household against major shocks to its financial well-being—by mitigating lost earning capacity and helping to cover out-of-pocket health care expenditures. This post describes a new article published in the JBCA, Valuing Protection against Health-Related Financial Risks  with co-authors Kalipso Chalkidou and Dean Jamison, which is part of an open access Special Issue, Conducting Benefit-Cost Analysis in Low- and Middle-Income Countries, edited by Lisa Robinson

Anne BurtonMarch 6, 2019

By: Anne Burton

Since the 1964 Surgeon General’s report linking smoking cigarettes to adverse health outcomes, numerous federal, state, and local governments have passed regulations designed to reduce the prevalence of smoking and related externalities. Examples of such regulations include cigarette taxes, public health campaigns, minimum purchasing ages for tobacco, and – the focus of this post – smoking bans in bars and restaurants. While the links between smoking and health are clear, the effects of these bans on social welfare, which includes other types of risky behavior as well as smoking, are less well understood. This post describes work-in-progress to address some of the gaps. Preliminary results will be presented at the Annual Conference and Meeting of the Society for Benefit-Cost Analysis in March 2019.


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