Cost-benefit analysis (CBA) has been an important policy tool of
government since the 1980s, when the Reagan administration ordered
that all major new regulations be subjected to a rigorous test of
whether their projected benefits would outweigh their costs. Not
surprisingly, CBA has been criticized by many who claim that it
neglects, especially on the benefit side, important values that are
hard to measure.
In this book, the authors reconceptualize cost-benefit analysis,
arguing that its objective should be overall well-being rather than
economic efficiency. They show why the link between preferences and
well-being is more complicated than economists have thought.
Satisfying a person's preference for some outcome is
welfare-enhancing only if he or she is self-interested and
well-informed. Also, cost-benefit analysis is not a super-procedure
but simply a way to identify welfare-maximizing policies. A
separate kind of analysis is required to weigh rights and equal
This book not only places cost-benefit analysis on a firmer
theoretical foundation, but also has many practical implications
for how government agencies should undertake cost-benefit
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