“Three Cheers for the Nanny State”

An op-ed article in the New York Times today by Sarah Conly, assistant professor of philosphy at Bowdoin College, argues that benefit-cost analysis gives conclusions in favor of NY state regulation banning 32 oz sodas. Her article appears to allow the inclusion of paternalistic values in benefit-cost analysis rather than benefits and costs as perceived by people themselves. This steps beyond the traditional use of benefit-cost analysis in policy and raises the question: do the findings of behavioral psychology support such a change in how we do BCA?

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6 Responses to “Three Cheers for the Nanny State”

  1. boswelli says:

    This article fascinates me because it’s a bit obscure; it goes against the norms of benefit-cost analysis. In my opinion, I think it’s a positive finding. Although benefit-cost analysis is a great way to decide on policies, at times, it just isn’t enough. The addition of behavioral psychology with respect to BCA allows for more accurate decisions regarding important policies. This new element will raise the question of health and as a result, will aid in the preservation of human life; an area we are always working to advance in.

  2. salvitta says:

    I also feel that this was a very good article because of the alternative viewpoint of benefit cost analysis from a psychological perspective. I think that it is very important to veiw BCA analysis through behavioral psychology, but at the same time I also believe that it is more important to have a personal and traditional examination of a BCA. The issue of human health in economic examinations is usually not as much of a relevant factor as it seems to be in most benefit cost analysis’. Studying stakeholders, the monetary value of the benefit/cost, time value of money among other economic variables are all very important factors that need more in-depth analysis than psychological at times to receive a true economic solution.

  3. Jessica S says:

    I found the psychological angle in economics both an interesting an useful perspective. When considering cost and benefits, looking at how behavior is changing as well as what new benefits and/or costs are incurred could provide a deeper understanding of how a policy will affect the public. The change in behavior could also been in itself either a benefit or cost. Factoring in these effects of a policy could allow a more in depth analysis and ultimately a better choice by lawmakers.

  4. Nicky Tynan says:

    The comments so far suggest strong support for the inclusion of paternalistic benefits in benefit-cost analysis. Are there any downsides to allowing this change in benefit-cost analysis in practice?

  5. millemic says:

    This is an interesting article, I enjoy the perspective of psychological behavior in BCA. I feel the soda ban provides not only personal benefits, but benefits to the entire community. However, there is a potential draw back to this type of benefit-cost analysis. Banning soda will not necessarily make an individual healthier. An individuals health is going to depend on other aspects of their diet. This type of BCA opens doors for laws to be passed to regulate all foods. Along with impeding on freedoms, it would also be unnecessary for policy to regulate all types of food and drink. Psychological behavior in BCA is a great idea, but it may need to be chosen carefully for certain issues.

  6. Brian Cannon says:

    From an Austrian perspective, one would argue against the soda ban under the assumption that the individual is the best judge of their own utility function. If a person believes that the benefits of drinking 32+ ounces of soda outweighs the costs to their health, then they should have the freedom to do so. Everyone has their own preferences and if an individual thinks the net benefits of an action are positive while being fully aware of the costs then they should have the right to take on that action.
    Obviously, the goal of the soda ban is to raise awareness of the adverse health effects that result from drinking large quantities of soda. Some may not be fully knowledgeable about what soda does to their body. What will be interesting to see is if the 32+ ounce soda consumers will continue to drink as much soda because doing so has become more inconvenient as a result of the ban.

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