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Behavioral Economics and the Conduct of Benefit-Cost Analysis: Towards Principles and Standards

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  • Hammitt, James
  • Robinson, Lisa

Abstract

As traditionally conducted, benefit-cost analysis is rooted in neoclassical welfare economics, which, in its most simplified form, assumes that individuals act rationally and are primarily motivated by self-interest, making decisions that maximize their welfare. Its conduct is evolving to reflect recent work in behavioral economics, which explores the psychological aspects of decisionmaking. We consider several implications for analyses of social programs, focusing largely on economic valuation. First, benefit-cost analysis often involves valuing nonmarket outcomes such as reductions in health and environmental risks. Behavioral research emphasizes the need to recognize that these values are affected by psychological as well as physical attributes. Second, benefit-cost analysis traditionally uses exponential discounting to reflect time preferences, while behavioral research suggests that individuals’ discounting may be hyperbolic. While the appropriate rates and functional form are uncertain, market rates best represent the opportunity costs associated with diverting funds to support a particular social policy or program. Such rates reflect the intersection between technological progress and individual preferences, regardless of whether these preferences fit the standard economic model or a behavioral alternative. Third, behavioral research emphasizes the need to consider the influence of other-regarding preferences on valuation. In addition to acting altruistically, individuals may act reciprocally to reward or punish others, or use the status of others as the baseline against which to assess their own well-being. Fourth, behavioral economics identifies factors that can help researchers develop valuation studies that provide well-informed, thoughtful preferences. Finally, while behavioral research has led some to argue for a more paternalistic approach to policy analysis, an alternative is to continue to focus on describing the preferences of those affected by th
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  • Hammitt, James & Robinson, Lisa, 2010. "Behavioral Economics and the Conduct of Benefit-Cost Analysis: Towards Principles and Standards," LERNA Working Papers 11.02.336, LERNA, University of Toulouse.
  • Handle: RePEc:ler:wpaper:23892
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    2. Helen G. Levy & Edward C. Norton & Jeffrey A. Smith, 2018. "Tobacco Regulation and Cost-Benefit Analysis: How Should We Value Foregone Consumer Surplus?," American Journal of Health Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 4(1), pages 1-25, Winter.
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    5. Scott Farrow & W. Kip Viscusi, 2013. "Towards principles and standards for the benefit–cost analysis of safety," Chapters, in: Scott O. Farrow & Richard Zerbe, Jr. (ed.), Principles and Standards for Benefit–Cost Analysis, chapter 5, pages 172-193, Edward Elgar Publishing.
    6. Kip Viscusi, W. & Gayer, Ted, 2016. "Rational Benefit Assessment for an Irrational World: Toward a Behavioral Transfer Test1," Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis, Cambridge University Press, vol. 7(1), pages 69-91, April.
    7. Marette Stéphan & Roosen Jutta & Blanchemanche Sandrine, 2011. "The Combination of Lab and Field Experiments for Benefit-Cost Analysis," Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis, De Gruyter, vol. 2(3), pages 1-36, August.
    8. Andersson, Henrik & Ouvrard, Benjamin, 2023. "Priming and the Value of a Statistical Life: A Cross Country Comparison," TSE Working Papers 23-1439, Toulouse School of Economics (TSE).
    9. Louise Russell, 2014. "The Science of Making Better Decisions about Health: Cost-Effectiveness and Cost-Benefit Analysis," Departmental Working Papers 201406, Rutgers University, Department of Economics.
    10. Rikke Søgaard & Jes Lindholt & Dorte Gyrd-Hansen, 2012. "Insensitivity to Scope in Contingent Valuation Studies," Applied Health Economics and Health Policy, Springer, vol. 10(6), pages 397-405, November.
    11. James K. Hammitt, 2013. "Positive versus Normative Justifications for Benefit-Cost Analysis: Implications for Interpretation and Policy," Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 7(2), pages 199-218, July.
    12. Massimo Anelli & Felix Koenig, 2021. "Willingness to Pay for Workplace Safety," CESifo Working Paper Series 9469, CESifo.
    13. Thomas J. Kniesner, 2019. "Behavioral economics and the value of a statistical life," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 58(2), pages 207-217, June.
    14. Bruno Karoubi & R駩s Chenavaz, 2015. "Prices for cash and cash for prices? Theory and evidence on convenient pricing," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 47(38), pages 4102-4115, August.
    15. Gillespie, Rob & Kragt, Marit E., 2012. "Accounting for Nonmarket Impacts in a Benefit-Cost Analysis of Underground Coal Mining in New South Wales, Australia," Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis, Cambridge University Press, vol. 3(2), pages 1-29, May.
    16. Robinson Lisa A. & Hammitt James K., 2013. "Skills of the trade: valuing health risk reductions in benefit-cost analysis," Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis, De Gruyter, vol. 4(1), pages 107-130, March.
    17. Dorte Gyrd‐Hansen & Mette Lundsby Jensen & Trine Kjaer, 2014. "Framing The Willingness‐To‐Pay Question: Impact On Response Patterns And Mean Willingness To Pay," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 23(5), pages 550-563, May.
    18. Andersson, Henrik & Ouvrard, Benjamin, 2023. "Priming and the value of a statistical life: A cross country comparison," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 104(C).
    19. Jin, Yana & Andersson, Henrik & Zhang, Shiqiu, 2020. "Do preferences to reduce health risks related to air pollution depend on illness type? Evidence from a choice experiment in Beijing, China," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 103(C).

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