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On Knowing the Price of Everything
and the Value of Nothing

By Frank Ackerman and Lisa Heinzerling
The New Press, 2004;
288 pages, Hardcover, $25.95; Paperback, $16.95
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“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… This is a thoughtful book that is partisan but not strident …”
— Publishers Weekly

It sounds absurd to express the value of human lives, the environment, or conservation in dollars and cents, but cost-benefit analysis requires it. Often endorsed as the most reasonable way to make decisions on proposed regulations, cost-benefit analysis attempts to convert all relevant factors into monetary terms.

Written by Frank Ackerman and Georgetown University Law Center professor Lisa Heinzerling, Priceless debunks cost-benefit analysis and the derelict logic used to defend it. The first comprehensive rebuttal of the Bush administration’s market-based assault on legal protections for human health, the environment and natural resources, Priceless signals the danger of allowing an artificial bottom line to distinguish right from wrong in public policy.

"A vividly written book, punctuated by striking analogies, a good deal of outrage, and a nice dose of humor." — Cass R. Sunstein, The New Republic

"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

"Exposes a little-known but significant and fatal flaw at the heart of the Bush administration's antiregulatory crusade." — OnEarth magazine

“A damning indictment of cost-benefit analysis applied to health and environmental protection.”— Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Priceless takes apart the barren but intricate hokum of deregulatory formulaics that have duped key members of the mass media and frozen your rights to a cleaner, safer, and more efficient marketplace and environment… [A] very important, unique book.” — Ralph Nader

Frank Ackerman, an economist at the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University, is the author of Why Do We Recycle? and a contributing author to the 2001 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Lisa Heinzerling, is a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, specializing in environmental law. She was a law clerk to Judge Richard Posner and Justice William Brennan, and she has represented environmental groups and state agencies in numerous legal battles.

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Download the New Press publicity flier for Priceless (pdf): front page, back page

Read more about GDAE's research program, Economics for Health and the Environment.

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