The Cost-Benefit Revolution

The Cost-Benefit Revolution

By Cass R. Sunstein

Why policies should be based on careful consideration of their costs and benefits rather than on intuition, popular opinion, interest groups, and anecdotes.

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Why policies should be based on careful consideration of their costs and benefits rather than on intuition, popular opinion, interest groups, and anecdotes.

Opinions on government policies vary widely. Some people feel passionately about the child obesity epidemic and support government regulation of sugary drinks. Others argue that people should be able to eat and drink whatever they like. Some people are alarmed about climate change and favor aggressive government intervention. Others don't feel the need for any sort of climate regulation. In The Cost-Benefit Revolution, Cass Sunstein argues our major disagreements really involve facts, not values. It follows that government policy should not be based on public opinion, intuitions, or pressure from interest groups, but on numbers—meaning careful consideration of costs and benefits. Will a policy save one life, or one thousand lives? Will it impose costs on consumers, and if so, will the costs be high or negligible? Will it hurt workers and small businesses, and, if so, precisely how much?

As the Obama administration's “regulatory czar,” Sunstein knows his subject in both theory and practice. Drawing on behavioral economics and his well-known emphasis on “nudging,” he celebrates the cost-benefit revolution in policy making, tracing its defining moments in the Reagan, Clinton, and Obama administrations (and pondering its uncertain future in the Trump administration). He acknowledges that public officials often lack information about costs and benefits, and outlines state-of-the-art techniques for acquiring that information. Policies should make people's lives better. Quantitative cost-benefit analysis, Sunstein argues, is the best available method for making this happen—even if, in the future, new measures of human well-being, also explored in this book, may be better still.

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Endorsements

  • Only Cass Sunstein could present cost-benefit analysis as a prism for understanding democracy, an exciting research frontier, and a route to a better world. The world will be a better place if the next president of the United States thinks hard about this important book.

    Lawrence H. Summers

    Charles W. Eliot University Professor and President Emeritus, Harvard University

  • Cost-benefit analysis may not have all the answers, but Cass Sunstein's eminently readable The Cost-Benefit Revolution addresses all the right questions. No one in America has thought more deeply about the strengths, weaknesses, and underpinnings of cost-benefit analysis from both a theoretical and practical level than Cass Sunstein. This book will surely pass your personal cost-benefit test.

    Alan Krueger

    Bendheim Professor of Economics and Public Affairs, Princeton University

  • Cass Sunstein's enlightening volume makes a compelling case that systematic assessments of benefits and costs should become even more ingrained in government policymaking. In addition to drawing on his substantial regulatory expertise, Sunstein deftly explores novel policy terrain ranging from national security to free speech.

    W. Kip Viscusi

    University Distinguished Professor, Vanderbilt University; author of Pricing Lives: Guideposts for a Safer Society and Economics of Regulation and Antitrust

  • Sunstein has been leading the cost-benefit revolution, and here he explains how it is making the world a better place. If that weren't enough, this must-read lets readers into one of the world's most important minds.

    Michael Greenstone

    Milton Friedman Professor of Economics, University of Chicago