W. Kip Viscusi

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W. Kip Viscusi
Academic background
Alma materHarvard University (A.B.), (M.P.P.), (A.M.), (Ph.D.)
Academic work
InstitutionsVanderbilt University
Harvard University
Duke University
Northwestern University
University of Chicago

William (W. Kip) Viscusi (born 1949) is an American economist whose primary fields of research are the economics of risk and uncertainty, risk and environmental regulation, behavioral economics, and law and economics. Viscusi is the University Distinguished Professor of Law, Economics, and Management at Vanderbilt Law School where he and his wife, Joni Hersch, are the founders and co-directors of the Ph.D. Program in Law and Economics.[1] Prior to his appointment at Vanderbilt, Viscusi was the first John F. Cogan, Jr. Professor of Law and Economics at Harvard Law School and Director of the Harvard Program on Empirical Legal Studies. Viscusi is the author of Pricing Lives: Guideposts for a Safer Society.[2]


Viscusi graduated from St. Xavier High School in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1967 and was inducted into the school's Hall of Honors in 2007.[3] Viscusi was the recipient of the 2015 Outstanding Alumnus Award from St. Xavier.[4] Viscusi majored in economics and earned an A.B. degree summa cum laude from Harvard College in 1971, where he was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. His undergraduate thesis, which was directed by Richard Zeckhauser, won the 1970–1971 Allyn A. Young Prize for best Harvard undergraduate economics thesis. Viscusi also earned a M.P.P. in Public Policy in 1973, an A.M. in Economics in 1974, and his Ph.D. in Economics in 1976 all from Harvard University. His dissertation, which was chaired by Nobel laureate Kenneth Arrow, won the 1975–1976 David A. Wells Prize for best Harvard economics Ph.D. dissertation in 1975–1976.[5]


W. Kip Viscusi is Vanderbilt University's first University Distinguished Professor.[6] Prior to joining the Vanderbilt law faculty in 2006, Viscusi was the first John F. Cogan, Jr. Professor of Law and Economics at Harvard Law School from 1996 to 2006.[7] He was also the Director of the Harvard Program on Empirical Legal Studies during that period. Previously, he was the Olin Visiting Professor of Economics in 1995 at Harvard Law School. Viscusi was the George G. Allen Professor of Economics at Duke University from 1988 to 1996, Professor of Economics at Northwestern University in 1985–1988, and the Olin Visiting Research Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago in 1985–1986. Viscusi has also held tenured faculty appointments at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business and he received tenure from Northwestern University in 1979, where he began his academic career as Assistant Professor of Economics in 1976. In 2014 he served as Vice President of the Society for Benefit-Cost Analysis, and in 2015 he served as President.[8] He served as the President-Elect of the Southern Economic Association in 2019 and President in 2020.[9] In 2019 Viscusi received the Earl Sutherland Prize for Achievement in Research, which is the most prestigious faculty honor for accomplishments in research at Vanderbilt University.[10] Viscusi was also inducted into the inaugural group of Fellows of the Society for Benefit-Cost Analysis in 2021[11] and the inaugural group of Distinguished Fellows of the Southern Economic Association in 2023.[12]

Government work[edit]

From 1979 to 1980 Viscusi was the Deputy Director of the Council on Wage and Price Stability. This executive branch agency within the Carter White House was responsible for regulatory oversight and administration of the pay and price guidelines. In 1981 he was Research Associate at the National Commission for Employment Policy before returning to his academic position. In 1982 he was asked by the Reagan Administration to resolve a dispute between the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget over the economic merits of the proposed hazard communication regulation.[13] His analysis introduced the use of economic value of statistical life estimates based on his estimates of workers' wage-risk tradeoffs into agency benefit assessments. This approach led to much greater benefits than the previous human capital approach so that the regulation now passed a benefit-cost test.[13] The use of this value-of-statistical-life methodology is now the standard practice in the federal government.[14]

Viscusi also has served as member of numerous panels of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board including the Environmental Economics Advisory Committee, the Clean Air Act Compliance Analysis Council, and the Homeland Security Advisory Committee. His estimates of the value of statistical life are widely used by government agencies throughout the federal government to value the benefits of risk and environmental regulations.[15][16]


Viscusi has published more than 30 books and over 400 articles. He has written widely on the economics of risk and uncertainty. His contributions have focused primarily on individual and societal responses to health and safety risks. As of 2023, he is ranked as the third most cited U.S. law professor by Brian Leiter's Law School Reports, “Law professors ranked by h-index (Google Scholar).”[17]

Viscusi and Mark J. Machina founded the Journal of Risk and Uncertainty in 1987. The first two volumes were co-edited with Mark J. Machina. Viscusi has been the sole editor since 1989. The journal publishes 6 issues a year and is published by Springer.


  • W. Kip Viscusi; James Hamilton (1999). Calculating Risks?: The Spatial and Political Dimensions of Hazardous Waste Policy. MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-08278-5.
  • W. Kip Viscusi (2004). Regulation through Litigation. Brookings Institution Press. ISBN 978-0-8157-9885-9.
  • W. Kip Viscusi; Joseph E. Harrington Jr.; David E.M. Sappington (2018). Economics of Regulation and Antitrust. MIT Press. ISBN 9780262038065.
  • W. Kip Viscusi (2010). Smoke-Filled Rooms: A Postmortem on the Tobacco Deal. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-85748-0.
  • W. Kip Viscusi (2018). Pricing Lives: Guideposts for a Safer Society. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-17921-6


  1. ^ "W. Kip Viscusi and Joni Hersch join Vanderbilt law faculty", 24 January 2006. Retrieved on 17 October 2014.
  2. ^ Kip Viscusi, W. (2018-05-15). Pricing Lives. ISBN 9780691179216.
  3. ^ "Alumni Hall of Honors Members" Archived August 7, 2015, at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on 10 December 2014.
  4. ^ "Outstanding Alumnus Award" Retrieved on 16 September 2015.
  5. ^ "W. Kip Viscusi Named First Cogan Professor of Law and Economics", Harvard University Gazette, 26 September 1996. Retrieved on 13 November 2014.
  6. ^ "First Class: Vanderbilt's Law & Economics Program is Open for Business" Vanderbilt Lawyer, Vol. 36, No. 1. Retrieved on 10 December 2014.
  7. ^ "W. Kip Viscusi Named First Cogan Professor of Law and Economics", Harvard University Gazette, 26 September 1996. Retrieved on 17 October 2014.
  8. ^ "W. Kip Viscusi (Vanderbilt) Elected as SBCA Vice President; James K. Hammitt (Harvard) and Jack Wells (U.S. Department of Transportation) Elected as Board Members", January 9, 2014. Retrieved on 10 December 2014.
  9. ^ "W. Kip Viscusi is president-elect of the Southern Economic Association". Vanderbilt University. Retrieved 2019-10-30.
  10. ^ Owens, Ann Marie Deer. "11 faculty members honored at Fall Faculty Assembly". Vanderbilt University. Retrieved 2019-10-30.
  11. ^ "SBCA Awards". Society for Benefit-Cost Analysis. Retrieved 2023-12-01.
  12. ^ "Distinguished Fellow Award". Southern Economic Association. Retrieved 2023-12-01.
  13. ^ a b Pete Earley, "What's a Life Worth? How the Reagan Administration Decides for You" Washington Post Magazine, June 9, 1985.
  14. ^ "U.S. Office of Management and Budget Circular A-4", September 17, 2003, Section 8. Retrieved 11 December 2014.
  15. ^ "Professor W. Kip Viscusi's estimates on VSL adopted by the U.S. Dept. of Transportation (DOT)" April 23, 2013. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
  16. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions on Mortality Risk Valuation" Retrieved 10 December 2014.
  17. ^ Leiter, Brian. "Professor". Brian Leiter's Law School Reports. Law Professor Blogs Network. Retrieved 4 May 2023.

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