Consider the storm brewing over the latest regulations from the FDA:
Buried deep in the federal government’s voluminous new tobacco regulations is a little-known cost-benefit calculation that public health experts see as potentially poisonous: the happiness quotient. It assumes that the benefits from reducing smoking — fewer early deaths and diseases of the lungs and heart — have to be discounted by 70 percent to offset the loss in pleasure that smokers suffer when they give up their habit.In one way this makes perfect sense, I mean, people wouldn't smoke if they didn't get something out of it. But if we are going to start making calculations based on happiness, how are we supposed to measure it?
An F.D.A. spokeswoman, Jennifer Haliski, said that there was “still a great deal of uncertainty” surrounding the calculation, and that the agency was helping fund research to explore the issue. She emphasized that the whole purpose of a public comment period was to get the best information before the new regulations became final. “Comments are encouraged and all will be considered,” she said.A great deal of uncertainty for sure. And bureaucrats hate uncertainty even more than most people:
If the formula for assessing costs and benefits remains unchanged in the final version of the regulations, it could set a dangerous precedent that would constrain public-policy making for years to come, experts and advocates warned.Certainly if we have to somehow measure, say, the pleasure lost by snowmobilers if they are banned from a certain area, vs. the pleasure gained by cross-country skiers when the engine noise is gone, that could open up unending battles and keep lots of regulations from ever being finalized. But would that be a good thing or a bad thing?