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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

How should we evaluate public policies or projects to avert, or reduce the likelihood of, a catastrophic event? Examples might include inspection and surveillance programs to avert nuclear terrorism, investments in vaccine technologies to help respond to a "mega-virus," or the construction of levees to avert major flooding. A policy to avert a particular catastrophe considered in isolation might be evaluated in a cost-benefit framework. But because society faces multiple potential catastrophes, simple cost-benefit analysis breaks down: Even if the benefit of averting each one exceeds the cost, we should not necessarily avert all of them. We explore the policy interdependence of catastrophic events, and show that considering these events in isolation can lead to policies that are far from optimal. We develop a rule for determining which events should be averted and which should not.

Suggested Citation

  • Ian W.R. Martin & Robert S. Pindyck, 2014. "Averting Catastrophes: The Strange Economics of Scylla and Charybdis," NBER Working Papers 20215, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:20215
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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.
    2. David Backus & Mikhail Chernov & Ian Martin, 2011. "Disasters Implied by Equity Index Options," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 66(6), pages 1969-2012, December.
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    6. 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.
    7. 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.
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    12. 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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    Cited by:

    1. Rick van der Ploeg & Aart de Zeeuw, 2018. "Pricing Carbon and Adjusting Capital to Fend off Climate Catastrophes," OxCarre Working Papers 207, Oxford Centre for the Analysis of Resource Rich Economies, University of Oxford.
    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. Robert S. Pindyck, 2016. "The Social Cost of Carbon Revisited," NBER Working Papers 22807, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    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, 2017. "Can a hazardous event be another source of poverty traps ?," Working Papers 2017.14, FAERE - French Association of Environmental and Resource Economists.
    18. 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.
    19. 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:

    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty
    • H56 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - National Security and War
    • Q54 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Climate; Natural Disasters and their Management; Global Warming

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