The Stupidity of the Cost-Benefit Standard

Posted: 2 Nov 2000

See all articles by Henry S. Richardson

Henry S. Richardson

Georgetown University - Department of Philosophy


Cost-benefit analysis (CBA) is often touted as providing not just an important base of information useful in evaluating government programs, but a general standard of public choice that will help insure the wise and intelligent use of our limited resources. This article argues that (wholly apart from its deficiencies in other respects) CBA cannot provide such a standard. Intelligent deliberation is shown to require a willingness and ability to refashion aims in light of new information that comes in. Cost-benefit analysis, both in general and as a possible standard of choice in the context of democratic lawmaking, makes no room for this crucial aspect of intelligent deliberation. Calling its standard "stupid" for this want of intelligence would be unwarranted if no more intelligent mode of political decision making were available, but there is. The article closes by sketching this superior mode.

Suggested Citation

Richardson, Henry S., The Stupidity of the Cost-Benefit Standard. Available at SSRN:

Henry S. Richardson (Contact Author)

Georgetown University - Department of Philosophy ( email )

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