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Overview

Improving Cost-Benefit Analysis to Account for Existential and Catastrophic Risks

Cost-benefit analysis is at the heart of the modern American administrative state. It governs both the process and goals of “good” government, defining what interests truly count. However, current guidance lacks an adequate framework for one of the most important problems of this century: the risk of global catastrophic harms to present and future generations, including human extinction.

We can change that.

Developments in our understanding of science, economics, and ethics make it possible for modern cost-benefit analysis to more accurately account for these societal values. In recognition of this fact, the Biden Administration has tasked the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) with “producing a set of recommendations for improving and modernizing regulatory review,” including how cost-benefit analysis can account for “the interests of future generations” and “fully account for regulatory benefits that are difficult or impossible to quantify.”

This competition is a response to that call to action.

The Prompt

The goal of this competition is to arm our nation's policymakers with the tools and methods they need to fully account for the interests of future generations and catastrophic and existential risks. We seek submissions that present and develop regulatory methods to

  • Account for changes in the probability of national or human extinction (posed by threats like pandemics, climate change, nuclear weapons, or artificial intelligence)
  • Account for changes in the probability of catastrophic public harms; or
  • Account for the interests of future generations


The Rules

Submissions must contain the following elements:


  1. A single cover page summarizing the author's argument
  2. A second page that contains the language of your proposed amendment(s) to Circular A-4 or other regulations governing regulatory decision-making in the United States. [Note: because the topic has already been highly theorized and debated, we discourage applicants from proposing or arguing for changes to the general discount rate.]
  3. An essay explaining, justifying, and qualifying the proposed amendments and methodologies used. This essay must be at most 10,000 words, including citations and footnotes. This is an upper bound, and we encourage shorter submissions where the author can succinctly present their argument in fewer words. This word count does not include the cover page or amended regulatory text. Citations need not follow any particular format, so long as they are consistent and allow for verification of the claims made.

Prizes

First Prize: $30,000
Second Prizes (up to 4): $5,000 each
Third Prizes (up to 5): $2,500 each

An additional Incentive Prize of $10,000 is available to any Finalists that (a) are cited by, or (b) whose suggested language is adopted by the revised Circular A-4. Please see our Terms and Conditions for further information on the prizes.

We recognize this is a lot of money for an essay competition. But high-quality advice like this is hard to come by, and the potential regulatory importance is high. In our view, we would be happy to pay someone’s salary to work on these submissions for weeks or even months, so we’re glad to make this investment and reward high-quality work in this field.

We hope to receive entries from academics, researchers, and students, which is why we’ve offered many prizes. With such a novel question and a policy-oriented format, we expect to award at least some prizes to participants who have not previously published on these topics. All submissions will be reviewed anonymously. If you are considering making a submission, please do so regardless of your level of experience!

Winning submissions will be published on the Legal Priorities Project website.

Contest Timeline

Application Deadline: July 31, 2022
Finalists Notified: August 15, 2022
Winners Announced: September 1, 2022

Submission

All submissions shall be made through this form, in .doc or .docx format. Instructions on how to submit your entry can be found at that link. Because the review process will be anonymous, please do not include identifying information in your document.


Selection Process

The selection process will be fully anonymous. Review of submissions will take place in two phases:


  1. An initial review by a panel of one or more experts coordinated by the Legal Priorities Project. This Nominating Panel will recommend up to 10 papers to the final-round Judging Panel. All submissions that emerge from the Nominating Panel review will receive a prize.
  2. A final review by a panel of U.S. law professors. This Judging Panel will determine which papers receive First, Second, and Third prizes. Only one paper may win First Prize. Up to four papers may win Second Prize. Up to five papers may win Third Prize.

Selection Criteria

We're looking for submissions that provide practical guidance on how to alter the existing agency review process. Submissions should be feasible and implementable in the immediate future.

Submissions will be judged on the basis of their

  • Potential to accurately account for existential and catastrophic risks,
  • Potential to incentivize or promote more reasoned agency decision-making that accounts for such risks
  • Discussion and integration of major moral, legal, policy, political, economic, and prudential considerations
  • Feasibility and likelihood of implementation
  • Reasoning and supporting evidence
  • Clarity, persuasiveness (especially to general policymaking audiences), and ease of implementation

Winning submissions will make contributions to some, though not necessarily all of these criteria, and we may award papers that make particularly strong contributions to one of these areas while being less compelling in some other categories.

We expect that the best submissions will have clear and direct relevance to risks presented by artificial intelligence, pandemics, nuclear weapons, and/or climate change.

Eligibility

The Competition is open to US residents aged 18 or over only. Certain individuals are excluded due to conflicts of interest, namely:

  • Current employees of LPP, the FTX Foundation, or any affiliated entities.
  • Members of the Nominating or Judging Panels of the Competition.
  • The immediate family of the above.

Please see the terms and conditions for further information on these exclusions.

Our Judges

The final round of the competition will be judged by:


Ben Eidelson

Benjamin Eidelson is an Assistant Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Professor Eidelson’s writing focuses on the interplay of moral principles and legal rules. He works primarily in constitutional law, antidiscrimination law, administrative law, and legal theory.

Richard Revesz

Richard Revesz is the AnBryce Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus at the New York University School of Law and one of the nation’s leading voices in the fields of environmental and regulatory law and policy. In 2008, Professor Revesz founded the Institute for Policy Integrity, a think tank and advocacy organization that uses economics and law to support smart policies for the environment, public health, and consumers.

Arden Rowell

Arden Rowell is a Professor of Law at the University of Illinois. Professor Rowell’s research interests revolve around environmental law, risk regulation, and human behavior. This work has led Professor Rowell to examine difficult questions around the ethical assumptions underlying cost-benefit analysis, the effect of context on quantitative valuations of environmental harms, the undervaluation of pandemic risks, and the implications of large potential upside events for agency decision-making.

Rich Theroux

Rich Theroux is a retired Senior Economist and Branch Chief at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in the Office of Management and Budget. From 1985-2008 he was responsible for the review of economically significant regulations issued by the Departments of Transportation, Interior, Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency. He was a contributing author to several documents, including OMB Circular A-4, “Regulatory Analysis.” In 2009, he was certified as a member of the Senior Executive Service and, until his retirement in 2021, served as Chief of OIRA’s Transportation and Security Branch, with responsibility for reviewing all significant regulations information collections issued by the Departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, State, Justice, and Housing and Urban Development.


FAQ

If you have a question that isn’t listed here, contact us anytime at competition@legalpriorities.org. We would love to hear from you.

Yes. You are welcome to submit past work that you think fits our criteria, even if it’s already been published elsewhere. These submissions should meet our specific requirements, like including proposed, amended text to Circular A-4. In general, we would advise candidates to submit only papers that directly address catastrophic and existential risks, rather than trying to adapt tangentially related papers to the competition.

Yes, you may work with any number of authors. Please note, that prizes will be awarded per Finalist paper, not per author. If there is more than one author for a single Finalist paper, LPP will divide the Prize that paper receives evenly between the authors.

LPP hopes that this contest will yield concrete policy changes. Therefore, we may, at our discretion, choose to cite or distribute submissions to maximize their impact.

We expect to publish all Finalists on our website. We may also work with Finalists to publish their submissions as part of our working paper series.

If you think someone would be a particularly good fit for this competition, please fill out this form. If our Nominating Panel selects their paper as a Finalist, we will send the referrer $1,000 for the referral.

Only one person per Finalist will be credited with a referral. The person who receives credit for a referral will be the first person who brings the candidate to our attention, counted from the time of receipt of the referral form response or email.

You may refer multiple people and receive multiple referral bonuses.

You can find more information about our referral bonus here.

Yes. If you’re up for the work, we’re up to review. Please avoid duplicative submissions that make only minor changes between versions.

In short, we want to make the world a better place, and we think that one of the most important ways to do that is to protect future generations and reduce existential and catastrophic risks that threaten people today and tomorrow. Ensuring that government decisionmaking accurately accounts for these critical values is central to that goal.

If you’d like to learn more about our focus areas, please visit the Legal Priorities Project website, fill out our general expression of interest form, or read more about some of the key principles that influence our work—effective altruism and the longtermism paradigm.

This competition is organized by the Legal Priorities Project. The Legal Priorities Project is an independent, global research project founded by researchers from Harvard University. We conduct and support foundational legal research and develop legal strategies to tackle the world’s most pressing problems. This currently leads us to focus on mitigating existential risk and promoting the flourishing of future generations. Our research is influenced by the principles of effective altruism and the longtermism paradigm.

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