The cost of inaction: why cost-benefit analysis seldom settles arguments

Draft for WHO Workshop, Rome, 13-14 December 2007. The cost of inaction: economic valuation in environment and health.

Contemplation of the costs of inaction usually provokes questions about the benefits of inaction, which leads to cost-benefit analysis. Cost-benefit analysis, as a method for settling arguments about action or inaction is enormously seductive. You simply add up the benefits of doing something and subtract the costs and if the result is positive you have a case for doing it. What could be wrong with that? In practice quite a lot. ….

The cost of inaction, the title of this workshop, implies the existence of a set of problems within WHO’s sphere of responsibility in which conventional methods of economic evaluation will be able to convince those responsible for taking action that the benefits of action will outweigh the costs. I have my doubts. Read full paper .

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