Working Papers March 2017

Working Paper Series

We welcome papers submitted by SBCA members on topics in benefit-cost analysis for circulation as part of this working paper series. The Society shares these papers as a service to its members and the benefit-cost analysis community. The Society for Benefit-Cost Analysis does not edit the papers before sharing and inclusion of a working paper here does not constitute endorsement by the Society of any of its content.  

SBCA members interested in submitting their working papers for future issues may contact Erika Dowd at

Anchoring Biases in International Estimates of the Value of a Statistical Life

Abstract: U.S. labor market estimates of the value of a statistical life (VSL) were the first revealed preference estimates of the VSL in the literature and continue to constitute the majority of such market estimates. The VSL estimates in U.S. studies consequently may have established a reference point for the estimates that researchers analyzing data from other countries are willing to report and that journals are willing to publish. This article presents the first comparison of the publication selection biases in U.S. and international estimates using a sample of 68 VSL studies with over 1,000 VSL estimates throughout the world. Publication selection biases vary across the VSL distribution and are greater for the larger VSL estimates. The estimates of publication selection biases distinguish between U.S. and international studies as well as between government and non-government data sources. Empirical estimates that correct for the impact of these biases reduce the VSL estimates, particularly for studies based on international data. This pattern of publication bias effects is consistent with international studies relying on U.S. estimates as an anchor for the levels of reasonable estimates. U.S. estimates based on the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries constitute the only major set of VSL studies for which there is no evidence of statistically significant publication selection effects. Adjusting a baseline bias-adjusted U.S. VSL estimate of $9.6 million using estimates of the income elasticity of the VSL may be a sounder approach to generating international estimates of the VSL than relying on direct estimates from international studies.

Authors: W. Kip Viscusi (Vanderbilt University), Clayton J. Masterman (Vanderbilt University)


Consumer’s Guide to Regulatory Impact Analysis

Abstract: Regulatory impact analysis (RIA) weighs the benefits of regulatory proposals against the burdens they impose. Government agencies develop RIAs before issuing significant new regulations, and non-governmental interests may also present their own analyses of how different policies will affect outcomes. However, dense or complex RIAs can be challenging for policy officials and interested parties to comprehend and interpret, making it difficult to distinguish facts from conjecture and to understand the likely consequences of alternative policy choices. While numerous technical guidelines exist to aid development of RIAs, none is geared toward non-specialist policymakers and interested stakeholders who will be reading RIAs as consumers. This guide attempts to fill that gap. It first reviews the purpose of RIA, and then offers policy makers and other consumers of RIAs 10 tips for asking informed questions when reviewing and interpreting them.

Authors: Susan Dudley (The George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center), Richard Belzer (Regulatory Checkbook), Glenn Blomquist (University of Kentucky), Timothy Brennan (Resources for the Future), Christopher Carrigan (The George Washington University), Joseph Cordes (The George Washington University), Louis A. Cox (Cox Associates), Arthur Fraas (Resources for the Future), John Graham (Indiana University), George Gray (The George Washington University), James Hammitt (Harvard University), Kerry Krutilla (Indiana University), Peter Linquiti (The George Washington University), Randall Lutter (University of Virginia/Resources for the Future), Brian Mannix (George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center), Stuart Shapiro (Rutgers University), Anne Smith (NERA Economic Consulting), W. Kip Viscusi (Vanderbilt University), and Richard Zerbe (University of Washington)


The Post-Truth Era in Government Evaluation of Major Project and Policy Proposals

Abstract: Australian experience reveals an increasingly post-truth approach to economic evaluation, with governments ignoring or avoiding professional expertise when promoting their favoured projects and policies. Lack of formal guidelines for economic evaluation, such as those promulgated by Congress and successive American presidents, are a partial explanation. A concomitant hollowing-out of public service expertise in economic analysis has also occurred. More importantly, public sector agencies have even lost much of their capability to understand and assess evaluations carried out on their behalf by commercial consultants. An effective antidote to this deskilling would be the production and publication of analyses of major government policy and project proposals, as well as the development of a standardised analytical framework reinforced with training for public servants.

Authors: Leo Dobes (Australian National University)


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Working Paper Series - Working Papers March 2017