Unquantified Benefits: Toward Bayesian Cost-Benefit Analysis

April 2015
Jonathan S. Masur, Eric A. Posner
Regulatory agencies in the executive branch of the federal government are required to perform cost-benefit analyses of major rules. However, in many cases regulators refuse to report a monetized value for the benefits of a rule that they issue. Sometimes, they report no monetized value; at other times, they report a monetized value but also state that not all benefits have been quantified. On occasion, regulators also refuse to monetize or fully monetize costs. These practices raise a puzzle. Cost-benefit analysis is a decision-procedure that requires the decisionmaker to estimate both the benefits and the costs of a regulation in monetary terms. If a regulator chooses not to monetize all the benefits or all the costs, it is not doing cost-benefit analysis. If it is not doing cost-benefit analysis, what is it doing?