Pinning Down Subjective Valuations: A Well-Being-Analysis Approach to Eminent Domain


This Comment provides an argument for applying a wellbeing-analysis approach to eminent domain compensation, discussing the inefficiencies that result from compensating individuals with only the fair market value of their properties and arguing that a well-being-analysis approach provides a way out of the practical compromises made in eminent domain jurisprudence. Although happiness regressions do not demonstrate the exact valuation that an individual has of her property, using a multiplier that reflects the average subjective premium generated by a happiness regression is consistent with value-of-life evidence, which uses information about others to estimate an average multiplier that ensures more-accurate damages.

This Comment demonstrates that the BHPS data set, along with certain assumptions about why individuals move, implies that a wedge exists between the subjective valuation of an owned property and its fair market value. Not only does this wedge exist but it measures somewhere around or above 22 percent of fair market value. Given such a potentially large effect, this Comment aims to inspire future survey work with respect to individuals who are required to move. Such survey data would measure changes in happiness when the move—since it is due to eminent domain—is exogenous. For this reason, regression analyses based on such moves will provide even more-accurate estimates for the average undercompensation that occurs when individuals are paid only the fair market value of their properties in the context of eminent domain.