Cost-Benefit Analysis: Why Relative Economic Position Does Not Matter
AbstractFor the original paper by Frank and Sunstein, see "Cost Benefit Analysis and Relative Position." For a related paper, see Besharov, "Three Questions About the Economics of Relative Position." The current debate over cost-benefit concerns in agencies' evaluations of government regulations is not so much whether to consider costs and benefits at all but rather what belongs in the estimated costs and benefits themselves. Overlaid is the long-standing concern that the distribution of costs and benefits needs some consideration in policy evaluations. In a recent article in the University of Chicago Law Review, Robert Frank and Cass Sunstein proposed a relatively simple method for adding distributional concerns to policy evaluation that enlarges the typically constructed estimates of the individual's willingness to pay for safer jobs or safer products. One might pay more for safety if it were the result of a government regulation that mandated greater safety across-the-board. The reason, Frank and Sunstein argue, for enlarging current estimates is that someone who takes a safer job or buys a safer product gives up wages or pays a higher price, which then moves him or her down in the ladder of income left over to buy other things. Alternatively, a worker who is given a safer job via a government regulation has no relative income consequences because all affected workers have lower pay. We show that when considering the core of the Frank and Sunstein proposal carefully one concludes that current regulatory evaluations should be left alone because there is no reason to believe that relative positional effects are important either to personal decisions in general or to currently constructed cost-benefit calculations of government regulations in particular. One of the practical problems with trying to consider relative position of income and consumption when estimating willingness to pay is that there is no unique way to ascertain from a statistical model the person's actual social reference group. A researcher must specify ex ante a reference group and then net out the behavioral effects of a possibly incorrectly attributed reference group's behavior on the individual. There is no well-established result from survey data for a typical person's economic reference group. Moreover, the econometric literature generally finds that reference group or social interaction effects are small and easily ignored, perhaps because the relative positional effects of workplace or product safety offset possible reference group effects on residual income (income net of the implicit cost of the extra product or job safety). It is also the case that Frank and Sunstein's recommended increase in the value of willingness to pay for safety used in current regulatory evaluations is already considered. Regulatory evaluations often include a pessimistic and an optimistic value of likely benefits, and Frank and Sunstein's suggested revised value of willingness to pay is still below the optimistic case that carefully formulated cost-benefit studies use. It is easy to show that almost doubling the estimated value of a statistical life would have an inconsequential effect on the economic desirability of a broad set of regulatory policies. Finally, we argue that the most important refinements one could make in the area of regulatory evaluation would be for agencies involved to adhere more to the framework of what is generally considered a carefully done cost-benefit study, and for agencies to make greater actual use of appropriately done cost-benefit studies when recommending regulations.
Download InfoIf you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.
Bibliographic InfoPaper provided by Regulation2point0 in its series Working paper with number 521.
Date of creation: Mar 2002
Date of revision:
Contact details of provider:
Web page: http://regulation2point0.org/
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:
- John DiNardo & Nicole M. Fortin & Thomas Lemieux, 1995.
"Labor Market Institutions and the Distribution of Wages, 1973-1992: A Semiparametric Approach,"
NBER Working Papers
5093, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
- DiNardo, John & Fortin, Nicole M & Lemieux, Thomas, 1996. "Labor Market Institutions and the Distribution of Wages, 1973-1992: A Semiparametric Approach," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 64(5), pages 1001-44, September.
- Dinardo, J. & Fortin, N.M. & Lemieux, T., 1994. "Labor Market Institutions and the Distribution of Wages, 1973-1992: A Semiparametric Approach," Cahiers de recherche 9406, Centre interuniversitaire de recherche en économie quantitative, CIREQ.
- Dinardo, J. & Fortin, N.M. & Lemieux, T., 1994. "Labor Market Institutions and the Distribution of Wages, 1973-1992: a Semiparametric Approach," Cahiers de recherche 9406, Universite de Montreal, Departement de sciences economiques.
- Nidardo, J. & Fortin, N. & Lemieux, T., 1994. "Labor Market Institutions and the Distribution of Wages, 1973-1992: A Semiparametric Approach," Papers 93-94-15, California Irvine - School of Social Sciences.
- Arrow, Kenneth J. & Cropper, Maureen L. & Eads, George C. & Hahn, Robert W. & Lave, Lester B. & Noll, Roger G. & Portney, Paul R. & Russell, Milton & Schmalensee, Richard L. & Smith, V. Kerry & Stavin, 1996. "Benefit-Cost Analysis in Environmental, Health, and Safety Regulation: A Statement of Principles," Working paper 615, Regulation2point0.
- Joseph P. Newhouse & Charles E. Phelps, 1976. "New Estimates of Price and Income Elasticities of Medical Care Services," NBER Chapters, in: The Role of Health Insurance in the Health Services Sector, pages 261-320 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
- Cornell, N. & Noll, Roger G. & Weingast, B., . "Safety Regulation," Working Papers 122, California Institute of Technology, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences.
- Burnett, Jason K. & Chan, Yee-Ho I. & Hahn, Robert W. & Mader, Elizabeth A. & Moyle, Petrea R., 2000. "Assessing the Quality of Regulatory Impact Analyses," Working paper 306, Regulation2point0.
- DiNardo, John & Tobias, Justin, 2001.
"Nonparametric Density and Regression Estimation,"
Staff General Research Papers
12020, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.
- Grodner, Andrew & Kniesner, Thomas J. & Bishop, John A., 2011.
"Social Interactions in the Labor Market,"
IZA Discussion Papers
5934, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Archive Maintainer).
If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.