Book: Priceless

Priceless: On Knowing the Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing
Authors:Frank Ackerman, Lisa Heinzerling Manufacturer:New Press Released:24 August, 2005 Rating: B+

This book takes a critical look at the policy of cost-benefit analysis, specifically with respect to environmental policies. The authors act as the sleuths for the reader, seeking out the source of some benefit guidelines, and making a big deal about the $6.1 million human life value. They also present some shady econonmic practices for the semi-layman, making it as simple as I think you could for this type of audience. At the same time, I never was tired of the analysis or decided to skip anything. Of all of the things which seem to be bad about the Bush administration, anyone who thinks they’re pro-public health should take a read.

Demystifying numbers isn’t the easiest in these times - especially when you’re talking about the government. The authors either have a lot of time on their hands, or they’re experts on the public health initiatives. Their first target: the $6.1 mil price on all of our heads. The first few chapters focus on where this amount for one human life was decided on. Other numbers are demystified as well, but this one is tbe biggie.

They take a meandering path through public policy, citing study after study and making a point of noticing where the source of information comes from. Probably the best point to take from this book is that you should be looking at where information is coming from, and that numbers sometimes lie. They make a point of noticing the numbers that the opponents of their views make, and discounting them based on earlier work by the own authors or adguing against the work itself. At times getting close to an ad hominem attack on some of the think tanks in the washignton area, they stop short of being the bad guys in this debate.

While numbers are one thing, the discounting of human life is another thing, especially through evil statistics. Priceless takes the fuzzy math that is used by cost-benefit analysis and makes it accessible to the normal american, or at least to the american with high school math. Techniques that are discounting human life for being disabled or young are found out and pointed out to the people who don’t have the time to follow every mathematical trick that is pulled in the confines of the capitol.

One thing that is clear from this book: the EPA isn’t the enemy here. It seems that the OMB office of the Bush administration has been sending back policy initiatives for almost the entire time that they’ve been around. While the book is overly critical, they come across as very truthful. One part that sticks out in my mind is the time that the EPA sent over a new policy that would actually SAVE money based on the OMB’s own cost-benefit guidelines, and they sent it back saying it wasn’t good enough.

While this book has a lot of good points, it does meander around the points a lot, taking three chapters to reveal some of the figures. Unlike this administration, This book gets a B+.