Case study

Assessing current costs and long-term benefits

By running a large-scale survey of expert opinions, and providing new methods for reconciling differences in opinion into a single ‘consensus’ view, Professor Mark Freeman has helped contribute to the way that governments balance the present and the long-term future when making investment decisions.

Cactus. Credit LauraTara / Pixabay.
Credit: LauraTara / Pixabay

The issue

When assessing the case for investment in physical infrastructure, climate change mitigation projects, healthcare interventions, pandemic preparedness, counter-terrorism measures and a range of other issues, governments must balance immediate finanical costs against very long-term societal benefits.

Understanding this trade-off requires policy-makers to consider matters of intergenerational fairness, balance social welfare gains against financial costs, and estimate the long-run returns that would be available on other investment opportunities.

The research

Professor Mark Freeman at the University of York Management School researches the question of how governments - and other organisations that regularly make major investment decisions - should optimally balance the present against the long-term future. 

This work includes running a large-scale survey of experts on relevant issues and providing new methods for governments to use to combine these different expert opinions into a single ‘consensus’ opinion for policy purposes. The results of the survey have helped to reconcile the United Nations climate targets with the preeminent integrated assessment model that guides policy makers on appropriate emissions targets and carbon taxes.

Mark has also undertaken a range of fundamental theoretical work on related questions.

The outcome

Mark's work has been applied in a range of policy contexts. In the UK, he has co-written detailed advice that underpins the recommendations contained in HM Treasury's Green Book guidance on project appraisal in the public sector in the UK. He has also provided detailed advice to the Office for National Statistics on the valuation of long-lived assets in the National Accounts. More recently, he has co-written reports for the International Seabed Authority on issues that inform the valuation of mineral assets that lie in international waters.

He has presented findings to the Dutch Ministry of Finance, the OECD International Transport Forum, a Gates Foundation event at Harvard University on the evaluation of projects that aim to combat infectious diseases in the poorest communities, and at the Home Office on counter-terrorism measures. His work is widely cited in international policy guidance and legal briefs in the United States.

Featured researcher
Mark Freeman

Mark Freeman

Professor Freeman's research interests focus on very long-term, often intergenerational, problems in cost-benefit analysis and portfolio management.

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