From Publishers Weekly
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. While it's no surprise to anyone who has worked with statistics that numbers are frequently massaged to advance a particular point of view, the authors argue that in some cases the massaging leans toward misrepresentation or outright incompetence. For example, one study attempted to downplay the hazards of toxic waste dumps by noting that accidents with deer hurt more people every year; but then, there are many more deer than toxic waste dumps. This is a thoughtful book that is partisan but not strident; at the same time, it assumes a certain degree of mathematical sophistication.
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"As Frank Ackerman and Lisa Heinzerling point out . . . it is hardly clear why the same logic [of short term investments] should apply to the value of our great-grandchildren." —Jim Holt, The New York Times Magazine
"Ackerman and Heinzerling combine sophisticated criticism and a provocative policy perspective with an accessible style and an eye for contemporary political issues." —Harvard Law Review
"If you've ever wondered where some really bad ideas—more arsenic in your water, say—could have come from, this book will provide the answers." —Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature