Viscusi, W. Kip 1949-

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VISCUSI, W. Kip 1949-

PERSONAL: Born October 3, 1949, in Trenton, NJ; son of William E. (an engineer) and Evelyn (Martin) Viscusi; married September 16, 1972 (marriage ended); married Joni Hersch; children: (first marriage) Kira, Michael. Education: Harvard University, A.B. (summa cum laude), 1971, M.P.P., 1973, A.M., 1974, Ph.D., 1976. Politics: Independent. Religion: Roman Catholic.

ADDRESSES: Office—Harvard Law School, Hauser 302, 1575 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138. E-mail—[email protected].

CAREER: Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, assistant professor, 1976-78, associate professor, 1979-81, professor of economics, 1985-88; Duke University, Durham, NC, professor of business administration, 1981-84, George G. Allen Professor of Economics, 1988-96; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, John F. Cogan, Jr., Professor of Law and Economics, 1996—. University of Chicago, John M. Olin visiting research professor, 1985-86. President's Council on Wage and Price Stability, deputy director, 1979-81; Environmental Protection Agency, member of science advisory boards on acid rain and lead pollution, 1986-87; member of Environmental Economics Advisory Committee and Clean Air Act Compliance Analysis Council, both 1992—.

AWARDS, HONORS: David A. Wells Prize, Princeton University, 1979, for Employment Hazards; Kulp-Wright Book-of-the-Year award, 1992, for Compensation Mechanisms for Job Risks, 1993, for Reforming Products Liability, 1994, for Fatal Tradeoffs, and 2000, for Rational Risk Policy; Royal Economics Society Prize, 1999; Mehr Award (with others), 1999.


(With Richard Berkman) Damming the West, Viking (New York, NY), 1973.

Welfare of the Elderly: An Economic Analysis and Policy Prescription, Wiley (New York, NY), 1979.

Employment Hazards: An Investigation of Market Performance, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1979.

Risk by Choice: Regulating Health and Safety in the Workplace, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1983.

Regulating Consumer Product Safety, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (Washington, DC), 1984.

(With Wesley A. Magat) Learning about Risk: Consumer and Worker Responses to Hazard Information, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1987.

(With Michael J. Moore) Compensation Mechanisms for Job Risks: Wages, Workers' Compensation, and Product Liability, American Risk and Insurance Association, 1990.

(With Paul Weiler and others) Enterprise Responsibility for Personal Injury: Reporters' Study, Volume I: The Institutional Framework, Volume II: Approaches to Legal and Institutional Change, American Law Institute, 1991.

Reforming Products Liability, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1991.

Smoking: Making the Risky Decision, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1991.

(With John Vernon and Joseph E. Harrington, Jr.) The Economics of Regulation and Antitrust, D. C. Heath (Lexington, MA), 1992.

(With Wesley A. Magat) Informational Approaches to Regulation, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1992.

Fatal Tradeoffs: Public and Private Responsibilities for Risk, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1992.

Product-Risk Labeling: A Federal Responsibility, AEI Press (Lanham, MA), 1993.

(Editor) The Mortality Costs of Regulatory Expenditures: A Special Issue of the Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Kluwer Academic (Boston, MA)1994.

Risk, Regulation, and Responsibility: Principles for Australian Risk Policy, Institute of Public Affairs (West Perth, Australia), 1996.

(With James T. Hamilton) Calculating Risks?: The Spatial and Political Dimensions of Hazardous Waste Policy, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1999.

(With Robert T. Hahn and Randall W. Lutter) Do Federal Regulations Reduce Mortality?, AEI/Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies (Washington, DC), 2000.

Rational Risk Policy, Clarendon Press (Cambridge, MA), 2000.

(With Michael J. Moore) Product Liability Entering the Twenty-first Century: The U.S. Perspective, AEI/Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies (Washington, DC), 2001.

(Editor) Regulation through Litigation, AEI/Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies (Washington, DC), 2001.

Smoke-filled Rooms: A Postmortem on the Tobacco Deal, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 2002.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Research on the "societal implications of risk."

SIDELIGHTS: W. Kip Viscusi is an economics professor who specializes in risk analysis. He has written or edited several books on this topic. His 1991 work Smoking: Making the Risky Decision examines the health risks of smoking, as well as the public's perception of such risks. Viscusi conducted telephone interviews, asking people what they thought about the risks of smoking, and found that many people overestimated the risks. Viscusi believes this is a result of government policy and advertising; for example, public service ads proclaim "Smoking Causes Cancer," implying a 100-percent level of risk for the disease. Viscusi suggests, that despite these ads and the high level of perceived risk, people will not quit smoking. Although this behavior is regarded as illogical and a symptom of addiction by antismoking activists, Viscusi suggests that the government should recognize this fact, encourage market competition among manufacturers to make safer cigarettes, and provide more information about the relative hazards of various brands so that those who do continue to smoke will face less risk in the long run. Reviewing Smoking for the British Medical Journal, Stephen Sutton noted that "Viscusi's argument is based on very limited data and his findings are at variance with the received wisdom on the subject," commenting that most people actually underestimate the risks of smoking.

Fatal Tradeoffs: Public and Private Responsibilities for Risk is a 1992 work that discusses government and private distribution of responsibility for various risks; for example, the government is responsible for repelling or punishing foreign invaders and domestic criminals; individuals are responsible for making sure they don't crash their cars. However, Viscusi, notes in the book, since 1970 the government has steadily been taking away the power of individuals to determine what risks they will be responsible for. For example, regulations regarding health, safety, and the environment took away much of the public's power to choose; these regulations assume that people are incapable of making a choice as to what is safe. In Fatal Tradeoffs Viscusi discusses the question of whether these risks should properly have been moved from the private to the public sphere.

In Calculating Risks: The Spatial and Political Dimensions of Hazardous Waste Policy, Viscusi and coauthor James T. Hamilton provide a cost-benefit analysis of the U.S. government's Superfund program, which is intended to clean up hazardous waste sites. They examine how the sites to be cleaned up are chosen, how the methods of cleanup are determined, the environmental impact of cleanup, and the economic impact of cleanup, and in conclusion argue that the government could greatly improve the Superfund program through regulatory rulemaking. In the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Erik Lichtenberg found the authors' agenda "ambitious," and predicted that Calculating Risks "is likely to be cited in both legislative reform and regulatory adjustment efforts." Lichtenberg added: "Overall, this body of work makes an important contribution to ongoing discussion of how to improve the performance of hazardous waste policies." In Independent Review contributor Prince V. Fishback found the volume to be "an excellent political-economic analysis of Superfund" and he praised the authors' "fair-minded" analysis. Richard C. Porter wrote in the Southern Economic Journal that, "If there were a Pulitzer prize for important economic policy analysis, this book would be on the short list."

Rational Risk Policy is based on a series of lectures Viscusi gave at the Lund University in Sweden in 1996. The book's theme is that, just as individuals make irrational decisions regarding personal risks, governments also make the same irrational choices. Viscusi notes that governments, like individuals, often overestimate small risks and underestimate large ones, leading to trouble. These errors explain why changes in regulations regarding risk often promise much but deliver little benefit. In the Journal of Risk and Insurance William Feldhaus called Rational Risk Policy "an important contribution to the literature dealing with risk policy."



American Journal of Agricultural Economics, August, 2001, Erik Lichtenberg, review of Calculating Risks: The Spatial and Political Dimensions of Hazardous Waste Policy, p. 799.

American Political Science Review, September, 2000,p. 721.

British Medical Journal, August 28, 1993, p. 573.

Choice, July, 1993, p. 1802.

Contemporary Sociology, May, 1994, p. 446.

Fortune, March 22, 1993, p. 179.

Independent Review, winter, 1999, p. 457; winter, 2001, Prince V. Fishback, review of Calculating Risks, p. 442.

Journal of Economic Literature, June, 1993, p. 961; June, 1993, p. 975; March, 1994, p. 131, 154; September, 1994, p. 1301; March, 1995, p. 332; September, 1996, p. 1454; September, 1999,p. 1227; September, 2001, p. 1006.

Journal of Political Economy, June, 1993, p. 554.

Journal of Risk and Insurance, March, 2000, William Feldaus, review of Rational Risk Policy, p. 16.

Lancet, June 12, 1993, p. 1523.

Library Journal, June 1, 2002, p. 174.

New Republic, February 15, 1993, p. 36.

Reason, August-September, 1993, p. 66; November, 1993, p. 63.

Reference and Research Book News, August, 1993,p. 20; June, 1996, p. 27.

Social Forces, September, 1994, p. 361.

Southern Economic Journal, April, 2000, p. 1012.


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