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Structural Uncertainty and the Value of Statistical Life in the Economics of Catastrophic Climate Change

  • Martin Weitzman

Using climate change as a prototype motivating example, this paper analyzes the implications of structural uncertainty for the economics of low-probability high-impact catastrophes. The paper shows that having an uncertain multiplicative parameter, which scales or amplifies exogenous shocks and is updated by Bayesian learning, induces a critical "tail fattening" of posterior-predictive distributions. These fattened tails can have strong implications for situations (like climate change) where a catastrophe is theoretically possible because prior knowledge cannot place sufficiently narrow bounds on overall damages. The essence of the problem is the difficulty of learning extreme-impact tail behavior from finite data alone. At least potentially, the influence on cost-benefit analysis of fat-tailed uncertainty about the scale of damages -- coupled with a high value of statistical life -- can outweigh the influence of discounting or anything else.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w13490.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 13490.

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Date of creation: Oct 2007
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13490
Note: EEE PE
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  1. Martin L. Weitzman, 2007. "Subjective Expectations and Asset-Return Puzzles," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(4), pages 1102-1130, September.
  2. Jérôme Foncel & Nicolas Treich, 2005. "Fear of Ruin," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 31(3), pages 289-300, December.
  3. Partha Dasgupta, 2007. "The Stern Review's economics of climate change," National Institute Economic Review, National Institute of Economic and Social Research, vol. 199(1), pages 4-7, January.
  4. Robert E. Hall & Charles I. Jones, 2004. "The Value of Life and the Rise in Health Spending," NBER Working Papers 10737, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. W. Kip Viscusi & Joseph E. Aldy, 2003. "The Value of a Statistical Life: A Critical Review of Market Estimates throughout the World," NBER Working Papers 9487, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. repec:reg:rpubli:292 is not listed on IDEAS
  7. Aumann, Robert J & Kurz, Mordecai, 1977. "Power and Taxes," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 45(5), pages 1137-61, July.
  8. François Bellavance & Georges Dionne & Martin Lebeau, 2006. "The Value of a Statistical Life: a Meta-Analysis with a Mixed Effects Regression Model," Cahiers de recherche 0646, CIRPEE.
  9. repec:reg:rpubli:282 is not listed on IDEAS
  10. Geweke, John, 2001. "A note on some limitations of CRRA utility," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 71(3), pages 341-345, June.
  11. Richard S.J. Tol, 2000. "Is the Uncertainty about Climate Change Too Large for Expected Cost-Benefit Analysis?," Working Papers FNU-3, Research unit Sustainability and Global Change, Hamburg University, revised Sep 2000.
  12. Scott Barrett, 2008. "The Incredible Economics of Geoengineering," Environmental & Resource Economics, European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 39(1), pages 45-54, January.
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