For large public projects, the public gains from estimating the costs and benefits of alternatives before proceeding are large, not to say huge. The costs of the analysis itself are normally a small fraction of the costs savings from avoiding bad decisions.
The Center for Benefit-Cost Analysis at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Policy and Governance was created to contribute to such analyses. The center, with funding from the MacArthur Foundation, created the Society for Benefit-Cost Analysis and the Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis, both of which are thriving. The Legislature knows the value of this sort of work through its own Washington Institute for Public Policy, some of whose staff are from the Evans School.
It is then encouraging to see The Seattle Times recommending that state climate-change proposals be subject to cost or benefit-cost analysis. Such analyses are eminently feasible. The Legislature should listen and take heed.
Richard O. Zerbe, Seattle, Daniel J. Evans Professor Emeritus, former director of the Center for Benefit-Cost Analysis at the University of Washington