Benefit-Cost Analysis in the Real World: Tales from the Trenches (Spring 2014)

Lisa A. Robinson, M-RCBG Senior Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School

Click here for detailed information about this study group, including a description of individual sessions and speaker bios.

2:40 – 4:00 PM, Wednesdays, January 29 to March 5, 2014
Hauser Conference Room, Belfer Building lobby level (B-L-4)

Moving from the textbook to the real world often poses significant challenges. We explore these challenges in a series of seminars featuring practitioners from several policy areas.

Benefit-cost analysis is a well-established and widely-used framework for collecting and analyzing information on the impacts of alternative policies, that estimates the extent to which those affected value the benefits they accrue more than the costs imposed. In the U.S. and other countries, such analysis is required for major regulations and increasingly used to support other types of policy decisions. While the theoretical foundation is well-established, actual practices often diverge due to limited data, time, and resources, as well as the changing decision making environment. Determining how to best conduct the analysis and appropriately interpret the results requires careful thought.

This study group involves a series of seminars led by experienced practitioners who work in a variety of policy areas. Each will discuss examples of analyses they conducted, including the difficulties they faced and how they addressed them. There are no assignments or required readings. The study group will help those interested in preparing such analyses better understand  their conduct, and those interested in using the results better understand the how to interpret them.

Preliminary Schedule (subject to change).  Read a description of each session

Wednesday, January 29, 2014 – Consumer Financial Protection: Examining Market Failures Alexei Alexandrov, Consumer Finance Protection Bureau

Wednesday, February 05, 2014 – Homeland Security: Benefit-Cost Analysis without Estimating Benefits Jennifer Baxter, Industrial Economics, Incorporated
>View presentation

Wednesday, February 12, 2014 – Benefit-Cost Analysis in a Nuisance Lawsuit: State of North Carolina v. Tennessee Valley Authority Anne Smith, NERA Economic Consulting

Wednesday, February 19, 2014 – EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule: The Science and Art of Estimating Benefits Neal Fann, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
>View presentation

Wednesday, February 26, 2014 – Learning What Works: Education Programs in Developing Countries Conner Brannen, Jameel Poverty Action Lab, MIT
>View presentation

Wednesday, March 05, 2014 – Improving Patient Safety: Barcoding of Unit Dose Pharmaceuticals Calvin Franz, ERG
>View presentation and notes

Lisa A. Robinson specializes in the economic analysis of environmental, health, and safety regulations. This spring, she is co-teaching a for-credit module in benefit-cost analysis at the Kennedy School (API-139m) in addition to hosting this study group. She is a senior fellow at M-RCBG and affiliated with its Regulatory Policy Program, and also holds a research appointment at the Center for Risk Analysis and Center for Health Decision Science at the Harvard School of Public Health. She was previously a Principal at Industrial Economics, Incorporated, the Director of Policy, Planning, and Budget for the federal Institute of Museum Services, and an analyst at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. She is the President of the Society for Benefit-Cost Analysis and serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis and Risk Analysis. She received her Master in Public Policy degree from the Kennedy School. As a senior fellow, she is investigating how the costs and benefits of regulatory policies are distributed across demographic groups and the implications for decisionmaking. Her faculty sponsors are James K. Hammitt, Professor of Economics and Decision Sciences at the Harvard School of Public Health, and Richard Zeckhauser, Frank Plumpton Ramsey Professor of Political Economy.

Lisa A. Robinson

M-RCBG Senior Fellow Lisa A. Robinson.

Alexei Alexandrov

Alexei Alexandrov, an economist with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, leads a study group session in January.