Retaking Rationality: How Cost-Benefit Analysis Can Better Protect the Environment and Our Health. By Richard L. Revesz & Michael A. Livermore. New York: Oxford University Press. 2008. Pp. viii, 254. $34.95.
Although legislative efforts were in the forefront during the first year of the Obama Administration, legislation is not the only way an administration leaves its mark. Since the Carter Administration, White House oversight of regulatory programs has been an important tool that every president has used to advance his policy objectives. Key issues raised by White House oversight and the use of cost-benefit analysis as a guide to regulatory decisions are addressed in Retaking Rationality: How Cost-Benefit Analysis Can Better Protect the Environment and Our Health, by Richard L. Revesz and Michael A. Livermore (2008). In this Review, Christopher C. DeMuth and Douglas H. Ginsburg, both administrators of the White House regulatory review program during the Reagan Administration, evaluate and criticize Retaking Rationality's arguments in detail. They find that Retaking Rationality fails to support its claim that cost-benefit "fallacies" have been used to block worthwhile regulations, and that the book's authors hold an unrealistic conception of the ability of cost-benefit analysis to settle contentious political questions. Messrs. DeMuth and Ginsburg argue that Retaking Rationality's conception of White House oversight as a neutral policy-optimizing mechanism is also unrealistic: active White House involvement in agency rulemaking is a legitimate and necessary means by which a president pursues his policies, whether they be the policies of a President Reagan or those of a President Obama.