Cost-benefit Analysis Conference Coming to Yale

Scholars and grass-roots activists from more than 15 countries will gather at Yale University, Oct. 8-10, to examine how policy makers have used cost-benefit analysis to justify controversial development projects and environmental decisions.

The conference, “The Cost-benefit Analysis Dilemma: Strategies and Alternatives,” will take place in the Hall of Graduate Studies, 320 York St. It is free and open to the public.

Social conflicts often result when cost-benefit analysis is used to make decisions about dam or road construction, global warming mitigation, biodiversity, occupational health policy or environmental regulation.

“Cost-benefit analysis is often advertised as a neutral, non-political technique which helps societies make decisions,” said Larry Lohmann of the Corner House, an independent not-for-profit research organization in the United Kingdom which, together with Yale’s Institution for Social and Policy Studies, is organizing the conference. “But, in fact, it is stirring up an increasing amount of controversy, and it seems that the more it is refined, the less credibility it enjoys.

“The purpose of this conference is to bring together concerned people from a variety of fields who don’t usually have a chance to meet each other to discuss why this is so,” Lohmann said. “The conference will also be a chance to think collectively about less problematic and more democratic ways of conceptualizing decision-making.”

Opponents of roads and hydroelectric dams around the world often disagree with the ways cost-benefit analysis values land, forests, fisheries and livelihoods. Opponents also question its reliance on experts, its neglect of equity, and its underlying political theory.

An increasing number of philosophers, legal scholars, economists, political scientists and biologists argue that cost-benefit analysis blocks rational deliberation by neglecting the plurality of values or by making questionable assumptions about predictability, discount rates and opportunity costs.

International participants at the conference will include Chittaroopa Palit, representing a group opposed to dam projects on India’s Narmada River; economists Vijay Paranjpye (ECONET, Pune, India); Martin O’Connor (University of Versailles, France); Aubrey Mayer, a climate activist with the London-based Global Commons Institute; philosopher John O’Neill (University of Lancaster) and other scholars and public intellectuals from Thailand, Nigeria, Britain, Kenya, Pakistan, Vietnam, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bulgaria, Canada and India.

They will be joined by well-known environmentalists based in the US. Yale professors Michael Dove and John Wargo (School of Forestry and Environmental Sciences) and James C. Scott (Political Science and Anthropology) will participate, together with environmental economist Joan Martinez-Alier, a fellow in Yale’s Agrarian Studies Program.

The conference is sponsored by Yale’s Institution for Social and Policy Studies with additional financial support from the Dutch Foundations NOVIB and HIVOS.

For more information and a schedule of sessions, contact Steve Rhee (203) 624-3795.

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