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Use of Experimental Economics in Policy Design and Evaluation: An Application to Water Resources and Other Environmental Domains  

Simanti Banerjee

Economics conceptualizes harmful effects to the environment as negative externalities that can be internalized through implementation of policies involving regulatory and market-based mechanisms, and behavioral economic interventions. However, effective policy will require knowledge and understanding of intended and unintended stakeholder behaviors and consequences and the context in which the policy will be implemented. This mandate is nontrivial since policies once implemented can be hard to reverse and often have irreversible consequences in the short and/or long run, leading to high social costs. Experimental economics (often in combination with other empirical evaluation methods) can help by testing policies and their impacts prior to modification of current policies, and design and implementation of new ones. Such experimental evaluation can include lab and field experiments, and choice experiments. Additionally, experimental policy evaluation should pay attention to scaling up problems and the ethical ramifications of the treatment. This would ensure that the experimental findings will remain relevant when rolled out to bigger populations (hence retaining policy makers’ interest in the method and evidence generated by it), and the treatment to internalize the externality will not create or exacerbate societal disparities and ethical challenges.