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Unequal Life Chances and Choices: How Subjective Well-Being Metrics Can Inform Benefit-Cost Analysis

  • Carol Graham


Individuals who are compromised in their ability to either believe in or plan for their future will make very different valuations of future benefits than will those who have more means and capabilities. These valuations could apply across a wide spectrum, from health care and insurance to investments in education to retirement savings. Data based on time trade-offs and other hypothetical questions will lead to large gaps in contingency valuations which, taken at face value, would lead to regressive outcomes. Individuals who discount the future are unlikely to be responsive to information intended to mitigate risk or to nudges designed to guide behavior away from risky choices. For example, these differential responses result in particular preventive policies having much less than the intended benefit values. Subjective well-being metrics can help circumvent the problem by comparing the reported well-being of individuals who are actually in different arrangements, such as those who have taken up health insurance or not, or in different work arrangements. Still, subjective well-being metrics are a compliment and not a substitute for the standard data that is used in BCA.



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