Today, a poorly-researched and highly dodgy cost-benefit analysis of democracy.
First, let me say that, as a way of making decisions that affect large numbers of people's lives, cost benefit analyses are at best morally questionable and at worst actively bad. That is opposed to, for example, one person making a cost benefit analysis of something that will only affect them (rather like Darwin's list on whether or not to marry; Emma Wedgwood, of course, was free to turn him down). That seems to me to be an entirely legitimate way to make a decision, if a little cold.
But what is cost-benefit analysis?
Suppose some project is proposed that will affect many people, some positively and some negatively. The project might be building a new hospital that will require an ancient woodland to be felled. A cost benefit analyst will go out and ask the people one or more of four questions:
- "What would you be prepared to pay for your share of the new hospital?"
- "What sum would you be prepared to accept to forgo the new hospital?"
- "What would you be prepared to pay to preserve the woodland?"
- "What sum would you be prepared to accept to see the woodland cut down?"