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Distributional Weights in Cost-Benefit Analysis—Should We Forget about Them?

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  • Olof Johansson-Stenman

Abstract

Many argue that it is socially inefficient to use distributional weights in cost-benefit analysis, and that doing so implies large inefficiency losses,when distributional matters can be dealt with trough income taxation, instead. Our results question this view, by showing a large range of cases when distributional weights are (second-best) optimal to use. One example is when different provided goods affect tax-revenues equally per dollar spent; utility functions that are separable in the provided goods is sufficient for this. Most results hold for linear and non-linear income taxes and whether they are optimal or not. General policy implications are discussed.

Suggested Citation

  • Olof Johansson-Stenman, 2005. "Distributional Weights in Cost-Benefit Analysis—Should We Forget about Them?," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 81(3).
  • Handle: RePEc:uwp:landec:v:81:y:2005:i:3:p337-352
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Kverndokk, Snorre & Rose, Adam, 2008. "Equity and Justice in Global Warming Policy," International Review of Environmental and Resource Economics, now publishers, vol. 2(2), pages 135-176, October.
    2. Paul Watkiss & Federica Cimato, 2016. "The economics of adaptation and climate-resilient development: lessons from projects for key adaptation challenges," GRI Working Papers 235, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.
    3. Anthoff, David & Hepburn, Cameron & Tol, Richard S.J., 2009. "Equity weighting and the marginal damage costs of climate change," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(3), pages 836-849, January.
    4. Athanasios Kampas & Richard Horan, 2016. "Second-best pollution taxes: revisited and revised," Environmental Economics and Policy Studies, Springer;Society for Environmental Economics and Policy Studies - SEEPS, vol. 18(4), pages 577-597, October.
    5. Adler, Matthew & Treich, Nicolas, 2014. "Consumption, Risk and Prioritarianism," TSE Working Papers 14-500, Toulouse School of Economics (TSE).
    6. Lea Skræp Svenningsen & Bo Jellesmark Thorsen, 2017. "Preferences for distributional impacts of climate policy," IFRO Working Paper 2017/10, University of Copenhagen, Department of Food and Resource Economics.
    7. Yamaguchi, Rintaro, 2012. "Discounting, Distribution and Disaggregation," MPRA Paper 46322, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    8. repec:eee:matsoc:v:87:y:2017:i:c:p:94-102 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Anthoff, David & Tol, Richard S.J., 2010. "On international equity weights and national decision making on climate change," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 60(1), pages 14-20, July.
    10. Nyborg, Karine, 2014. "Project evaluation with democratic decision-making: What does cost–benefit analysis really measure?," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 106(C), pages 124-131.
    11. Rintaro Yamaguchi, 2013. "Discounting, Distribution and Disaggregation: Discount Rates for the Rich and the Poor with Climate as a Source of Utility," Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Scottish Economic Society, vol. 60(4), pages 440-459, September.
    12. repec:eee:ecolec:v:150:y:2018:i:c:p:217-228 is not listed on IDEAS
    13. Karel Martens, 2011. "Substance precedes methodology: on cost–benefit analysis and equity," Transportation, Springer, vol. 38(6), pages 959-974, November.
    14. Scarborough, Helen & Bennett, Jeff, 2008. "Estimating intergenerational distribution preferences," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 66(4), pages 575-583, July.
    15. Udo Ebert, 2007. "Redistributional Preference in Environmental Policy," FinanzArchiv: Public Finance Analysis, Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, vol. 63(4), pages 548-562, December.
    16. Shyam KC, 2013. "Cost Benefit Studies on Disaster Risk Reduction in Developing Countries," World Bank Other Operational Studies 16111, The World Bank.
    17. Flügel, Stefan, 2014. "Accounting for user type and mode effects on the value of travel time savings in project appraisal: Opportunities and challenges," Research in Transportation Economics, Elsevier, vol. 47(C), pages 50-60.
    18. Matthew D. Adler, 2016. "Editor's Choice Benefit–Cost Analysis and Distributional Weights: An Overview," Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 10(2), pages 264-285.
    19. Nahmias–Biran, Bat-hen & Shiftan, Yoram, 2016. "Towards a more equitable distribution of resources: Using activity-based models and subjective well-being measures in transport project evaluation," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 94(C), pages 672-684.
    20. Glenn Jenkins & Chun-Yan Kuo & Arnold C. Harberger, 2011. "Cost-Benefit Analysis for Investment Decisions: Chapter 14 (The Shadow Price of Government Funds, Distributional Weights, and Basic Needs Externalitiess)," Development Discussion Papers 2011-14, JDI Executive Programs.
    21. Anna Brink & Katarina Nordblom & Roger Wahlberg, 2007. "Maximum fee versus child benefit: a welfare analysis of Swedish child-care fee reform," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 14(4), pages 457-480, August.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D61 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Allocative Efficiency; Cost-Benefit Analysis
    • H21 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Efficiency; Optimal Taxation

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