Cost-Benefit Analysis and Public Sector Trust
Edward H. Stiglitz and
No umvp8, LawArXiv from Center for Open Science
Eighty percent of Americans believe that government is run for “a few big interests” rather than the public interest. Rooted in notions of social welfare, cost-benefit analysis might be seen as an analytical procedure to flush out and discourage at least the most egregious abuses in lawmaking authority, thereby encouraging citizens to view their government as essentially pursuing some plausible notion of the public interest. Yet the extent to which cost-benefit analysis might fill this trust-building role is an unaddressed issue. Here, I conduct an experiment based on a (de)regulatory action in the environmental context to examine whether cost-benefit analysis might yield trust dividends. I find that cost-benefit analysis produces large increases in public sector trust, but only when paired with reasonableness review, and only among “elites.” This pattern of findings suggests that, without more, an agency declaration of cost justification is not credible, but that it may be made so through a form of reasonableness review. I discuss the contours of such review, and highlight perils if review is overly aggressive.
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