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Averting Catastrophes: The Strange Economics of Scylla and Charybdis

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  • Ian W. R. Martin
  • Robert S. Pindyck

Abstract

Faced with numerous potential catastrophes—nuclear and bioterrorism, mega-viruses, climate change, and others—which should society attempt to avert? A policy to avert one catastrophe considered in isolation might be evaluated in cost-benefit terms. But because society faces multiple catastrophes, simple cost-benefit analysis fails: even if the benefit of averting each one exceeds the cost, we should not necessarily avert them all. We explore the policy interdependence of catastrophic events, and develop a rule for determining which catastrophes should be averted and which should not. (JEL D61, Q51, Q54)

Suggested Citation

  • Ian W. R. Martin & Robert S. Pindyck, 2015. "Averting Catastrophes: The Strange Economics of Scylla and Charybdis," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(10), pages 2947-2985, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:105:y:2015:i:10:p:2947-85
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.20140806
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Ian W. R. Martin & Robert S. Pindyck, 2015. "Averting Catastrophes: The Strange Economics of Scylla and Charybdis," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(10), pages 2947-2985, October.
    2. Charles F. Manski, 2013. "Response to the Review of ‘Public Policy in an Uncertain World’," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 0, pages 412-415, August.
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    4. Pindyck, Robert S., 2012. "Uncertain outcomes and climate change policy," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 63(3), pages 289-303.
    5. Robert S. Pindyck, 2013. "Climate Change Policy: What Do the Models Tell Us?," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 51(3), pages 860-872, September.
    6. Kousky, Carolyn & Rostapshova, Olga & Toman, Michael & Zeckhauser, Richard, 2009. "Responding to Threats of Climate Change Mega-Catastrophes," Discussion Papers dp-09-45, Resources For the Future.
    7. Ian W. R. Martin, 2008. "Disasters and the Welfare Cost of Uncertainty," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(2), pages 74-78, May.
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    9. Nicholas Stern, 2013. "The Structure of Economic Modeling of the Potential Impacts of Climate Change: Grafting Gross Underestimation of Risk onto Already Narrow Science Models," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 51(3), pages 838-859, September.
    10. Manski, Charles F., 2013. "Public Policy in an Uncertain World: Analysis and Decisions," Economics Books, Harvard University Press, number 9780674066892, December.
    11. Michael Greenstone & Elizabeth Kopits & Ann Wolverton, 2013. "Developing a Social Cost of Carbon for US Regulatory Analysis: A Methodology and Interpretation," Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 7(1), pages 23-46, January.
    12. Robert S. Pindyck & Neng Wang, 2013. "The Economic and Policy Consequences of Catastrophes," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 5(4), pages 306-339, November.
    13. Gollier, Christian & Pratt, John W, 1996. "Risk Vulnerability and the Tempering Effect of Background Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 64(5), pages 1109-1123, September.
    14. Ian W. Martin, 2013. "Consumption-Based Asset Pricing with Higher Cumulants," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 80(2), pages 745-773.
    15. Robert J. Barro, 2015. "Environmental Protection, Rare Disasters and Discount Rates," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 82(325), pages 1-23, January.
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    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Frederick Ploeg & Aart Zeeuw, 2019. "Pricing Carbon and Adjusting Capital to Fend Off Climate Catastrophes," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 72(1), pages 29-50, January.
    2. Aurland-Bredesen , Kine Josefine, 2017. "Averting catastrophes in a more complex world," Working Paper Series 06-2017, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, School of Economics and Business.
    3. Pindyck, Robert S., 2019. "The social cost of carbon revisited," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 94(C), pages 140-160.
    4. Ian W. R. Martin & Robert S. Pindyck, 2015. "Averting Catastrophes: The Strange Economics of Scylla and Charybdis," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(10), pages 2947-2985, October.
    5. Ian Martin & Robert S. Pindyck, 2017. "Averting Catastrophes that Kill," NBER Working Papers 23346, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Vislie, Jon, 2017. "Resource Extraction and Uncertain Tipping Points," Memorandum 03/2017, Oslo University, Department of Economics.
    7. Oliver D. Bettis & Simon Dietz & Nick G. Silver, 2017. "The risk of climate ruin," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 140(2), pages 109-118, January.
    8. Roberto Burguet & Jozsef Sakovics, 2019. "Personalized Prices and Uncertainty in Monopsony," ESE Discussion Papers 290, Edinburgh School of Economics, University of Edinburgh.
    9. Steven Poelhekke, 2017. "How expensive should CO2 be? Fuel for the debate on optimal climate policy," DNB Working Papers 579, Netherlands Central Bank, Research Department.
    10. Samuel G. Hanson & David S. Scharfstein & Adi Sunderam, 2016. "Fiscal Risk and the Portfolio of Government Programs," NBER Working Papers 22763, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Steven D. Baker & Burton Hollifield & Emilio Osambela, 2018. "Preventing Controversial Catastrophes," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2018-052, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US).
    12. repec:kap:enreec:v:68:y:2017:i:1:d:10.1007_s10640-017-0144-5 is not listed on IDEAS
    13. repec:wsi:ccexxx:v:08:y:2017:i:04:n:s2010007817500142 is not listed on IDEAS
    14. Christoph M. Rheinberger & Nicolas Treich, 2017. "Attitudes Toward Catastrophe," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 67(3), pages 609-636, July.
    15. Heyen, Daniel & Goeschl, Timo & Wiesenfarth , Boris, 2015. "Risk Assessment under Ambiguity: Precautionary Learning vs. Research Pessimism," Working Papers 0605, University of Heidelberg, Department of Economics.
    16. Besley, Timothy J. & Dixit, Avinash K., 2017. "Comparing Alternative Policies Against Environmental Catastrophes," CEPR Discussion Papers 11802, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    17. Can Askan Mavi, 2019. "Can harmful events be another source of environmental traps?," CEE-M Working Papers halshs-02141789, CEE-M, Universtiy of Montpellier, CNRS, INRA, Montpellier SupAgro.
    18. Thomas Douenne, 2019. "Disaster risks, disaster strikes and economic growth: the role of preferences," Working Papers 2019.05, FAERE - French Association of Environmental and Resource Economists.
    19. Can Askan Mavi, 2017. "Can a hazardous event be another source of poverty traps ?," Working Papers 2017.14, FAERE - French Association of Environmental and Resource Economists.
    20. Marshall Burke & Melanie Craxton & Charles D. Kolstad & Chikara Onda, 2016. "Some Research Challenges In The Economics Of Climate Change," Climate Change Economics (CCE), World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., vol. 7(02), pages 1-14, May.
    21. J. Farmer & Cameron Hepburn & Penny Mealy & Alexander Teytelboym, 2015. "A Third Wave in the Economics of Climate Change," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 62(2), pages 329-357, October.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D61 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Allocative Efficiency; Cost-Benefit Analysis
    • Q51 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Valuation of Environmental Effects
    • Q54 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Climate; Natural Disasters and their Management; Global Warming

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