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This week's Wikipedia topic is: COST BENEFIT ANALYSIS

The following paragraph on theory is an excerpt from the Wikipedia page on cost benefit analysis. To read the full article, click here .



Cost–benefit analysis is often used by governments to evaluate the desirability of a given intervention. It is heavily used in today's government. It is an analysis of the cost effectiveness of different alternatives in order to see whether the benefits outweigh the costs. The aim is to gauge the efficiency of the intervention relative to the status quo. The costs and benefits of the impacts of an intervention are evaluated in terms of the public's willingness to pay for them (benefits) or willingness to pay to avoid them (costs). Inputs are typically measured in terms of opportunity costs - the value in their best alternative use. The guiding principle is to list all parties affected by an intervention and place a monetary value of the effect it has on their welfare as it would be valued by them.

The process involves monetary value of initial and ongoing expenses vs. expected return. Constructing plausible measures of the costs and benefits of specific actions is often very difficult. In practice, analysts try to estimate costs and benefits either by using survey methods or by drawing inferences from market behavior. For example, a product manager may compare manufacturing and marketing expenses with projected sales for a proposed product and decide to produce it only if he expects the revenues to eventually recoup the costs. Cost–benefit analysis attempts to put all relevant costs and benefits on a common temporal footing. A discount rate is chosen, which is then used to compute all relevant future costs and benefits in present-value terms. Most commonly, the discount rate used for present-value calculations is an interest rate taken from financial markets (R.H. Frank 2000). This can be very controversial; for example, a high discount rate implies a very low value on the welfare of future generations, which may have a huge impact on the desirability of interventions to help the environment. Empirical studies suggest that in reality, people's discount rates do decline over time. Because cost–benefit analysis aims to measure the public's true willingness to pay, this feature is typically built into studies.

During cost–benefit analysis, monetary values may also be assigned to less tangible effects such as the various risks that could contribute to partial or total project failure, such as loss of reputation, market penetration, or long-term enterprise strategy alignments. This is especially true when governments use the technique, for instance to decide whether to introduce business regulation, build a new road, or offer a new drug through the state healthcare system. In this case, a value must be put on human life or the environment, often causing great controversy. For example, the cost–benefit principle says that we should install a guardrail on a dangerous stretch of mountain road if the dollar cost of doing so is less than the implicit dollar value of the injuries, deaths, and property damage thus prevented (R.H. Frank 2000).

Cost–benefit calculations typically involve using time value of money formulas. This is usually done by converting the future expected streams of costs and benefits into a present value amount.