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Priceless: On Knowing the Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing Hardcover – February 24, 2004

4.6 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: The New Press; First Edition edition (February 24, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565848500
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565848504
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #952,924 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
If someone tells you that a regulation will cost $100 million but produce only $50 million in benefits, you'd probably think it was a good example of government bureaucrats running amok. But what if you then found out that what the regulation would really do was force polluters to cut emissions in order to prevent thousands of cases of life-threatening illness over the next three decades? And that the $50 million benefits "pricetag" was developed by a bunch of green-eyeshade types who regard each life as worth about $3 million, and who then use a statistical trick to make 87% of that value disappear?
Ackerman and Heinzerling have written a brilliant and scary book that lays out in chilling detail just how widely such techniques are now being used in making decisions about when to adopt health and environmental safeguards - and when NOT to. They also reveal that many of the horror stories repeatedly trotted out by critics of environmental and health standards NEVER ACTUALLY HAPPENED.
The authors' prose is engaging and their arguments are compelling. Essential reading for anyone who cares about health and the environment - and who thinks that industry shouldn't be blindly trusted to do the right thing in safeguarding them.
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Format: Paperback
Frank Ackerman and Lisa Heinzerling's book Priceless takes a critical look at the economic method of cost-benefit analysis which is often used to direct policy and behavioral decisions regarding health, the environment and social values. The authors' primary conclusion is that such analysis is often far too opaque to be relevant. Additionally, most cost-benefit analysis is unreflective of the true values of human health, life, ecosystems and other `priceless' elements these methodologies often deal with. It's argued that using cost-benefit analysis too often leads to sub-optimal and unjust outcomes. These outcomes are rationalized only by an academic exercise where everything is deduced to monetary terms.

The book does an excellent job presenting current-day policy decisions and breaking down the assumptions and arguments that led to their adoption. In doing so, Ackerman and Heinzerling show that the `pro-free market' mantra championed by business interests, and gaining popularity in some political circles, is proclaimed a success on the grounds of cost-benefit conclusions. However, the authors dig deeper to examine the questionable methods which seemingly prove that the market creates efficient outcomes and that regulation is often only a costly hindrance. Additionally, Priceless invites readers to consider injustices imposed historically, and in the current-day free market, in the absence of regulation and laws restricting certain activities. Slavery, child labor and toxic pollution are just three examples used in the book where free market efficiency is questioned. Seemingly, "anything profitable that is not prohibited by law is likely to occur" in a free market scenario.
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Format: Paperback
Although sometimes threatened by dry matters of obscure economics, here Ackerman and Heinzerling manage to keep their intriguing moral arguments in full view. The authors convincingly condemn the cost-benefit analysis that has become fashionable for the current administration, and corporations, when evaluating public health and environmental regulations. Such economic practices have resulted in embarrassing, and frankly inhuman, corporate decision making – the most famous example being the case of the Ford Pinto in which the company decided not to fix a minor defect in design because the lives of the people who could potentially be killed were (economically) worth less than the up-front costs. This type of heartless economic analysis is now being used by the Bush administration, and especially the imperious Office of Management and Budget, to "evaluate" all existing and proposed regulations, particularly any advanced by the EPA or other politically targeted agencies. Hence, all regulations are subjected to purely economic cost-benefit accounting. Tellingly, military spending is inherently "inefficient" by this standard, but has never been subjected to such statistical determinism.

Ackerman and Heinzerling convincingly demonstrate that this accounting is heavily politicized, with the costs of health or environmental regulations vastly overestimated, and the benefits to society vastly underestimated. This is often because matters of life quality and morality, which are essentially "priceless," tend to be given zero value in these purely accounting-oriented analyses. And in all cases, arcane and shifty accounting methods can further push the results of the cost-benefit analysis in the direction desired by the politicos who are crunching the numbers.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Just an okay read, I was expecting something a bit different -- should have read the book reviews from the jacket, that speaks volumes on where the author is coming from and why the book did not meet my needs.
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Format: Paperback
I think Heinzerling and Ackerman show within their very first chapter that they are totally "on" to the tricks of the "C/B/A" Dick Graham policynakers of our day, that they have a powerful critique of and rebuttal to that technique, and a talent for putting forth some very good, easily-understood examples that enable anyone with interest in the subject and a decent amount of common sense to figure out the great (hmm) game being played "out there."

I hate economics jargon, but i really liked this book.
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