HKS Affiliated Authors


Economic Approaches to Estimating Benefits of Regulations Affecting Addictive Goods. David Cutler, December 2, 2015, Paper. "The question of how to evaluate lost consumer surplus in benefit−cost analyses has been contentious. There are clear health benefits of regulations that curb consumption of goods with health risks, such as tobacco products and foods high in fats, calories, sugar, and sodium. Yet, if regulations cause consumers to give up goods they like, the health benefits they experience may be offset by some utility loss, which benefit−cost analyses of regulations need to take into account. This paper lays out the complications of measuring benefits of regulations aiming to curb consumption of addictive and habitual goods, rooted in the fact that consumers’ observed demand for such goods may not be in line with their true preferences. Focusing on the important case of tobacco products, the paper describes four possible approaches for estimating benefits when consumers’ preferences may not be aligned with their behavior, and identifies one as having the best feasibility for use in applied benefit−cost analyses in the near term." Link