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Cost-Benefit Analysis, Incommensurability and Rough Equality

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Abstract:

A recurring question about cost-benefit analysis (CBA) concerns its scope. CBA is a decision-making method frequently employed in environmental policy-making, in which things which have no market price are treated as if they were commodities. They are given a monetary value, a form of price. But it is widely held that some things cannot be meaningfully priced, thus substantially limiting the scope of CBA. The aim of this paper is to test some aspects of this broad claim, focusing on problems of incomparability and incommensurability. In particular, the role of rough equality as a putative form of comparison is investigated. I argue that while an assessment of the full significance of rough equality for practical decision-making awaits resolution of a number of important technical questions, it does not provide a strong enough form of comparison to support CBA.

Keywords: commodification; cost-benefit analysis; environmental valuation; incommensurability; incomparability; rough equality

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.3197/096327102129340966

Publication date: 2002-02-01

More about this publication?
  • Environmental Values is an international peer-reviewed journal that brings together contributions from philosophy, economics, politics, sociology, geography, anthropology, ecology and other disciplines, which relate to the present and future environment of human beings and other species. In doing so we aim to clarify the relationship between practical policy issues and more fundamental underlying principles or assumptions.

    Environmental Values has an impact factor (2015) of 1.311.
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