Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Pricing the environment

Dear Kate,

I gather, you took a minor in environmental economics. I once heard that you guys like to value clean air, healthy water, sequestered carbon etc by putting a price on them. How do you do that?

TreeHugger @ Borneo

Dear TreeHugger,

There are many ways to do that. Let me take one here, called hedonic price estimation. You are Foke that governor. Suppose you want to clean the Jakarta's air. Calculating the cost is easy: sum up the prices of labor, equipments, capital, etc. But you would need an estimate of benefit. After all, you can only approve a project when its benefit outweigh the cost - especially because you're using public money from the taxpayers, you would be held accountable. Measuring the benefit of cleaner air is not straightforward, because air is not market good ie it doesn't have a price tag ready like the t-shirt you buy in Plasa Senayan.

This is where hedonics comes into rescue (I'll tell you someday why it is called 'hedonic' approach). It measures the benefit of non-market good via the price of a market good. How? Think about the time when you were about to buy your house. What were your factors of consideration? Of course you would care about its price, its structure, its location, its neighborhood. But you also care about the environment, the air right? With only price and environment vary, other things being the same, which one would you buy: House A, cheaper but with dirtier air, or House B, more expensive with cleaner air? Keep in mind, life is about choosing and tradeoffs.

That is what hedonic approach exploits. It tries to extract the environmental part in your set of consideration when you buy a house. Using an advance econometric approach, you set all variables but price and an environmental proxy unchanged. Then you can see what a change in environmental variable would impact on the house price. Then you multiply this number by the population house in the area. This is the social benefit of having clean air in Jakarta.

You want more? Ahem, hire me :)

Greeny yours,

1 comment:

  1. why is it called the hedonic approach? for some reason i always knew about hednoic prices, but never understood the reasoning behind the terminology...