Sudhir Anand and co-authors recently published a fascinating book, The Costs of Inaction, which looks at cost-benefit analysis in a different way. All cost-benefit analysis requires the analyst to specify a counterfactual—how the world would have evolved in the absence of the project of program. This is critical. An evaluation in Kenya included increased use of cellphones as an indicator of project success — neglecting the fact that cellphone use in neighboring villages was just as widespread.
In many cases, the counterfactual could be “doing nothing.” For a number of important areas such as health and education in Africa, The Costs of Inaction calculates the costs of doing nothing in terms of lives lost or under-educated children.