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The Methodology of Positive Policy Analysis


  • Robert, Christopher

    (Harvard University)

  • Zeckhauser, Richard

    (Harvard University)


Policy analyses frequently clash. Their disagreements stem from many sources, such as models, empirical estimates, values, who should have standing, and weighting of different criteria. We provide a simple taxonomy of disagreement, identifying distinct categories within both the positive and value domains. Using disagreements in climate policy to illustrate, we demonstrate how illuminating the structure of disagreement can help to clarify the way forward. We conclude by suggesting a structure for new policy analysis that can facilitate assessment, comparison, and debate by making clear the likely sources of disagreement.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert, Christopher & Zeckhauser, Richard, 2010. "The Methodology of Positive Policy Analysis," Working Paper Series rwp10-041, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecl:harjfk:rwp10-041

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Lawrence Summers & Richard Zeckhauser, 2008. "Policymaking for posterity," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 37(2), pages 115-140, December.
    2. Alan B. Krueger & David Card, 2000. "Minimum Wages and Employment: A Case Study of the Fast-Food Industry in New Jersey and Pennsylvania: Reply," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(5), pages 1397-1420, December.
    3. Robert N. Stavins, 2008. "Addressing climate change with a comprehensive US cap-and-trade system," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 24(2), pages 298-321, Summer.
    4. Geoffrey Heal, 2009. "Climate Economics: A Meta-Review and Some Suggestions for Future Research," Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 3(1), pages 4-21, Winter.
    5. Victor R. Fuchs & Alan B. Krueger & James M. Poterba, 1998. "Economists' Views about Parameters, Values, and Policies: Survey Results in Labor and Public Economics," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(3), pages 1387-1425, September.
    6. Partha Dasgupta, 2008. "Discounting climate change," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 37(2), pages 141-169, December.
    7. Schelling, Thomas C, 1992. "Some Economics of Global Warming," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(1), pages 1-14, March.
    8. Morris, Stephen, 1995. "The Common Prior Assumption in Economic Theory," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 11(02), pages 227-253, October.
    9. Hylland, Aanund & Zeckhauser, Richard, 1979. " Distributional Objectives Should Affect Taxes but not Program Choice or Design," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 81(2), pages 264-284.
    10. Dani Rodrik, 2010. "Diagnostics before Prescription," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 24(3), pages 33-44, Summer.
    11. William D. Nordhaus, 2007. "A Review of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 45(3), pages 686-702, September.
    12. David Laibson, 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(2), pages 443-478.
    13. Martin L. Weitzman, 2007. "A Review of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 45(3), pages 703-724, September.
    14. William N. Trumbull, 1990. "Who has standing in cost-benefit analysis?," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 9(2), pages 201-218.
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