Many of the problems associated cost-benefit analysis and valuation
of the environment are generally conceded by those who promote
it. They maintain however, that despite its faults, cost-benefit
analysis is a useful tool. The real dispute lies over the philosophical
and ethical issues surrounding the question of whether the environment
should be give a price. Oscar Wilde described a cynic as 'one
who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing'. E.
F. Schumacher, who wrote the well-known book Small is Beautiful,
said a similar thing about cost&endash;benefit analysis:
To press non-economic values into the framework of the
economic calculus, economists use the method of cost/benefit analysis.
This is generally thought to be an enlightened and progressive
development, as it is at least an attempt to take account of costs
and benefits which might otherwise be disregarded altogether.
In fact, however, it is a procedure by which the higher is reduced
to the level of the lower and the priceless is given a price.
It can therefore never serve to clarify the situation and lead
to an enlightened decision. All it can do is lead to self-deception
or the deception of others; for to undertake to measure the immeasurable
is absurd and constitutes but an elaborate method of moving from
preconceived notions to forgone conclusions...what is worse, and
destructive of civilisation, is the pretence that everything has
a price or, in other words, that money is the highest of all values.
(quoted in Pearce 1983, pp. 1&endash;2)
Economists and business people argue that unless the environment
is valued in monetary terms it will be undervalued&emdash;because
people (voters, politicians, bureaucrats) are used to dealing
with monetary values and can more easily relate to them. Because
other things are valued in money terms, environmental benefits
can be compared with the benefits of other ways of spending money.
For example, the benefits from preserving a wetland can be compared
with the benefits of filling it in and building a housing estate.
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© 2001 Sharon