Applied cost-benefit analysis
Steve Landsburg does a cost-benefit analysis of executing computer hackers,
"Feed the Worms Who Write Worms to the Worms - The economic logic of executing computer hackers." By Steven E. Landsburg (Slate, May 26), and finds that executing hackers is a better investment than executing murderers.
The article has a provocative use of the idea of the value of a statistical life, and a useful discussion of what economists mean by the term. The article, and associated comments - scroll to the bottom of the page for the links to these - would provoke a great discussion in the cost-benefit portion of an economics of public policy class.
I posted on the valuation of risks to life on April 13: "Value of statistical life". I'm instinctively opposed to Landsburg's proposal to execute hackers (although I'm open on murderers), but I also think that cost-benefit analysis and the idea of the value of a statistical life are useful for policy guidance, so evidently I haven't thought enough about this yet. When am I going to apply my cost-benefit analysis, and when not?
For another applied exercise with the value of the statistical life see the work by Robert Hahn, Paul Tetlock, and Jason Burnett on the costs and benefits of regulating cell phone use in cars. I posted on it in September 2002: "Should it be illegal for people to use cell phones while driving?" The post has links to the original articles.