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Zack Brown – Benefit-cost analysis and alternatives for evaluating biotechnology policy | GES Colloquium (ZOOM)

March 28, 2023 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

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Benefit-cost analysis and alternatives for evaluating biotechnology policy

Zachary S. Brown, Associate Professor of Agricultural & Resource Economics, NC State

Website | Twitter @TheKazath

Is there a future role for benefit-cost analysis in biotechnology governance?


Benefit-cost analysis (BCA) is a ubiquitous method for evaluating policies throughout the US federal and state governments and around the world. It has been used for both normative and descriptive purposes, both prospectively and retrospectively, to assess the economic efficiency of policies. However, there are significant and well-known limitations in the method, especially in its insensitivity to fairness, equity, and justice. With these considerations receiving increasing prominence in political and policy discourses, including those surrounding biotechnology governance, what is the social utility of BCA going forward (compared to alternatives)? In this colloquium, I will quickly review the basic economic theory motivating BCA, summarizing some of my recent research deconstructing the method’s inherent indeterminism. I will then outline different areas of biotechnology policy in the US government where a role for BCA has been – or could be – implicated. I will describe a partial BCA from my own research evaluating the consumer welfare implications of agricultural gene drives, to motivate audience discussion questioning the utility of BCA in biotechnology governance.

Related links:

  • Brown, Z. S. (2022). Distributional policy impacts, WTP-WTA disparities, and the Kaldor-Hicks tests in benefit-cost analysis. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 113, 102654. PDF >
  • Jones, M. S., Delborne, J. A., Elsensohn, J., Mitchell, P. D., & Brown, Z. S. (2019). Does the US public support using gene drives in agriculture? And what do they want to know? Science Advances, 5(9), eaau8462. PDF >
  • Jones, M. S., & Brown, Z. S. (2019). Landscape-level pest control externalities when consumer preferences are non-neutral. In 2019 Annual Meeting, July 21-23, Atlanta, Georgia (No. 290815). Agricultural and Applied Economics Association. PDF >

Speaker Bio

Dr. Zack Brown is an Associate Professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, serves on the Executive Committee of the Genetic Engineering and Society (GES) Center, and is also a faculty affiliate of the Center for Environmental and Natural Resource Economics and Policy (CEnREP) at NC State. He teaches classes in environmental and resource economics in NC State’s Economics Graduate Program and also teaches and advises students in the AgBioFEWS graduate fellowship program funded by the National Science Foundation. His research broadly examines questions in the field of bioeconomics, examining interactions between economic agents and biological and ecological systems.

GES Colloquium (GES 591-002) is jointly taught by Drs. Jen Baltzegar and Dawn Rodriguez-Ward, who you may contact with any class-specific questions. Colloquium will generally be live-streamed via Zoom, with monthly in-person meetings in 1911 Building Room 129. Please subscribe to the GES newsletter and Twitter for updates .


March 28, 2023
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
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