On Knowing the Price of Everything
and the Value of Nothing
Frank Ackerman and Lisa Heinzerling
The New Press, 2004;
288 pages, Hardcover, $25.95; Paperback, $16.95
“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
— 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
"Exposes a little-known but significant
and fatal flaw at the heart of the Bush administration's
antiregulatory crusade." — OnEarth
“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
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).
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.
from The New Press
Download the New Press publicity flier
for Priceless (pdf): front
Read more about GDAE's research program,
for Health and the Environment.