Center for Progressive Reform


On Knowing the Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing

by Frank Ackerman & Lisa Heinzerling

The New Press, 2004. 288 pages, $25.95 hardcover.Priceless Cover
Order from the New Press or from Amazon.com.Priceless Cover

"How does one put a cost on a human life? And what effect does air pollution have on our health? Ackerman and Heinzerling focus on such questions in this volume, a skeptical and instructive look at how economists put a dollar value on intangible risks and rewards. What sounds like a purely technical process has enormous political implications, thanks to the pervasive use of cost-benefit analysis in government decision making. Because this analysis is used to quantify the impact of often controversial regulatory and tax policies, the economists' numbers loom large in public policy, which Ackerman and Heinzerling clearly deplore. They've composed a lively and engaging attack, both well reasoned and well documented, on the myriad ways that these little-scrutinized figures are manipulated for political gain… This is a thoughtful book that is partisan but not strident …"

       - Publishers Weekly

As absurd as it sounds to express the value of human lives, the environment, or conservation in dollars and cents, cost-benefit analysis requires it. Embraced by a growing number of politicians, economic analysts and conservative pundits as the most reasonable way to make decisions on proposed regulations, cost-benefit analysis attempts to convert all relevant factors into monetary terms.

Written by economist CPR Member Scholar Frank Ackerman, economist at the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University, and then-Member Scholar Lisa Heinzerling, professor of law at the Georgetown University Law Center, Priceless is a combative, no-holds-barred debunking of cost-benefit analysis and the derelict logic used to defend it. The first comprehensive rebuttal of the Bush administration's market-based assault on legal protections for human health, the environment and natural resources, Priceless refutes the ill-advised economic algorithms and illogical assumptions that cost-benefit analysts flaunt as fact, laying bare the tenuous foundations of the deregulatory movement. Ackerman and Heinzerling follow the trail of egregious mathematical tall tales back to a network of high-profile economic analysts who have generated the anti-regulatory factoids and fables underlying the current administration's pro-industry stance.

Critical reading for anyone concerned with the future of public health and environmental protection, Priceless signals the danger of using an artificial bottom line to distinguish right from wrong in public policy.

"A damning indictment of cost-benefit analysis applied to health and environmental protection."
       - Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

"Priceless takes apart the barren but intricate hokum of deregulatory formulaics that have duped key members of the mass media and frozen your rights to a cleaner, safer, and more efficient marketplace and environment… [A] very important, unique book."
       - Ralph Nader

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