A Cost–Benefit Approach
Chapter 2: Why Not Just Simply do What is Right and Try to Save Lives?
When I visited Tanzania, and was beginning my research on CBA and HIV/AIDS, I met a director of a non-governmental organization (NGO) that had run a number of interventions in one region of the country. When I asked what CBAs of their programs had been undertaken I was told that no CBAs had been undertaken because they were not necessary. When I asked why there were unnecessary, the reply was that the NGO’s activities were worthwhile because they saved lives. In response to my next question as to which of the interventions were necessary to save lives, I was informed that all of them were necessary. To an economist this judgment was thought to be highly suspect. Was it really the case that if one person in the NGO did something else in the region that everything would grind to a halt? And without any empirical evidence, how could one be sure that, relative to doing something else, lives were being saved? Economics is all about considering increments in activities. Economists ask, what would happen if there were a little more of this and a little less of that? If everything that was being undertaken was necessary then a little less would eliminate everything of value. Even if this were true, surely the NGO should try to find out how many extra lives would be saved if activities in the organization were expanded? So some evaluation would be necessary even if saving lives was the only yardstick by which success...
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