Elana Schor at the newly relaunched TPMDC writes about an LA Times article criticizing Obama’s pick of Cass Sunstein to head up OIRA. In her summary, she makes one truly egregious use of scare quotes:
According to the CPR, Sunstein, a longtime friend of Obama’s, has supported the use of “cost-benefit analysis” in evaluating proposed regulations — a method that assigns monetary values to various risks in an attempt to determine the worthiness of a new rule.
Call me brainwashed if you must, but when I went to graduate school, that’s how we were taught to evaluate policy. What’s the alternative? Purely verbal, ideological argumentation?
Schor herself explicitly identifies what troubles her about Sunstein: that he advocated assigning a relatively lower value to the lives of senior citizens than to those of younger people when evaluating regulatory regimes. Though analytically I don’t find that to be such a radical proposition, I can see how it can ruffle the feathers of a right-thinking liberal and is political poison with special interest groups like the AARP.
Nevertheless, the so-called death discount is no reason to put cost-benefit analysis in scare quotes as Schor does. It’s by far the sanest way to analyze policy. The left-right debate should take place as to what relative values we put on the welfare of different groups, not as to whether we should attempt to assign a quantitative value on welfare at all.
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