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The Economic Case for Reducing Indigenous Disadvantage in Australia

In Australia, the Australian Football League celebrated the contribution of Indigenous Australians to the game. This year’s ‘Indigenous round’ will be remembered for Adam Goodes’ war dance after kicking a goal. It was also reconciliation week, that is the week where Indigenous people were counted in the census and the historic Mabo decision that recognised Native Title. Yet, despite the mainstream acceptance that the past treatment of Indigenous Australians was shameful, there was little discussion that Indigenous Australians are still living with the effects of European colonisation. Indigenous Australians have a 10 years shorter life expectancy than non-Indigenous Australians; they make up 26% of the prison population in 2008 whilst making up 2.5% of total Australian population in 2006; 17% were unemployed in 2011 compared to 3.6% of non-Indigenous population; and Indigenous people account for 9% of homelessness. These social, health and economic indicators have budgetary consequences for both Federal and State governments. While there exists a strong moral case to reduce Indigenous disadvantage, there is also a very strong economic case for Australian governments: reducing Indigenous disadvantage could save both Federal and State governments $450,000per person over their lifetime.

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Does Tough on Crime Actually Reduce Crime?

 

Introduction

“Do the crime, do the time”, is the common attitude towards criminals. Surely it is reasonable to expect convicted criminals to be punished? Yes, that is certainly a reasonable assumption to show society is serious in punishing anti-social behaviour such as assault, rape, murder and corruption (to name a few). But many of these criminals will be released back into society after “doing the time”. I went to a one-day conference organised by the Lentara UnitingCare to learn about these issues. What struck me was how much resources are being wasted by a reactive approach to crime. In today’s post, I want to explore the economics of a tough on crime policy. What are the benefits and costs on tough on crime? Is there an alternative? If so, is it a more efficient approach to being tough on crime?

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Was it Worth It? The Benefit-Cost of Air Pollution in China

 

Introduction

My brother sent me a link for Under the Dome and asked me what I thought of it. Under the Dome is a brave documentary on how China’s policy of develop at any cost is costing the people it is meant to benefit. It is made by Chai Jing, a former investigative journalist of CCTV (the State-owned TV network), and was originally hosted on the People Daily’s (another State-owned media organ) website until the Chinese Government ordered its removal. What I find most interesting about the documentary is how personal it is: this documentary rams home the point that the cost of environmental pollution is deeply personal, not an ideological preoccupation of the rich, Western global elite.

Environmental impacts have been depicted as a rich world obsession. But we can see in China that the people most affected are ordinary people, not the elite of the business and political cadres. Ultimately, people will suffer the costs of pollution. The costs to people are the result of environmental degradation and should be weighed against the economic benefits of development in public policy analysis. This blog post will ask the question, was all the air pollution worth it?

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Kindergartens as Engines of Economic Growth

I was flicking through the OECD’s Education at a Glance 2014 to get a quick understanding of how Australia’s education system compares to the rest of the industrialised world. Australia mostly did well in the indicators compared to the OECD average, especially for university education. Although, it was a bit worrying to see that Australian school students’ educational scores stagnate. But there was one indicator that caught my eye, and that was the very low enrolment rates of Australian children in pre-school education (less than 20%) compared to around 75% for the OECD average. This places Australia the 5th lowest for pre-school enrolments in the OECD, with only Indonesia, Turkey, Switzerland and Greece being ranked lower. This caught me by surprise because there is pretty strong education and economic research that demonstrates the long-term benefits of early childhood education.

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Benefit-Cost Analysis of Ebola Response Strategies

The spectre of an Ebola outbreak has predictably prompted knee jerk reactions from governments around the world in an attempt to demonstrate that they are in control. Certainly, governments have a responsibility to protect their citizens and to prevent a panic amongst their constituents. In a sense, Ebola is only one example of how perception has come to dominate policy effectiveness in governments around the world. This post is not a whinge-fest on the hopelessness of governments. Instead, I want to demonstrate how a benefit-cost framework can help governments understand the pros and cons of different Ebola response strategies taken from my experience working on biosecurity issues. I will do so in a qualitative way to show that benefit-cost analysis does not necessarily involve lengthy reports and expensive consultants – this is something that can be done quickly to give policy-makers a sense of what are the main drivers of the problem (Ebola) and what strategies can be used to deal with it.

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Investment Approach to Deregulation

Image: Red tape.

Image: Red tape.

Last week, the consulting firm Deloitte’s released a new report titled, Get out of your own way: Unleashing productivity as part of their ‘Building the Lucky Country’ series. One of the main results was that Australian businesses imposed more red tape on themselves than the government does. Deloitte’s quantified the annual cost of self-imposed $155 billion compared to $94 billion from government-imposed regulation. Furthermore, this cost is associated with the growing ‘compliance sector’ that replaced the back-office staff that had been shed as a result of improvements in technology. So Australian firms have effectively spent their productivity dividend on beefing up their compliance capacity rather than concentrating on core activities. Deloitte’s attributes the growth of the ‘compliance sector’ to the growing risk-aversion among large Australian corporates to avoiding ‘stuff ups’. I generally found it an interesting report, although I thought it brushed over an important point: imposing rules is an implicit investment decision. I want to go through this important point in more detail in this post.

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Social Return on Investment and Benefit-Cost Analysis: What is the Difference?

“It is better to be vaguely right than precisely wrong”, so said the famous economist, John Maynard Keynes. Is this the right attitude to take when measuring the non-marketed social benefits from social services programs? Or should all possible effort be expended to precisely quantify the benefits and costs of a social services program? I would argue that it isn’t possible to precisely quantify social benefits because of the difficulty of collecting data. However, that doesn’t mean that we should accept that a social benefit is material without some transparency. And this is where the Social Returns on Investment (SROI) methodology can help improve the rigour of investment decision-making in social programs. (more…)