Friday, June 13, 2008

The value of human life

I suppose I'm more of a wannabe economist than an actual economist, however, I do understand the science more than the average person. I realize this doesn't say much, either. One thing that has always startled me, intrigued me--the value that people inadvertently place on human life. It is unappealing to do so, but it is done all the time. The families of the victims of 9/11 were compensated based on their loss. The value of that loss would, in rough economics terms--be equal to the amount of satisfaction given to the family members had this person stayed alive. This is only according to the government, however, which I can say for certain is not a good judge for morality. I am almost certain that the family members would be less likely to place an equal monetary value on their loved one's life.

A brief article in Time suggested that economists were attempting to place a value of human life for kidney research, placing the value at 126,000 USD. This is amazing to me. Where they derive this number, I'm not sure, but on first glance, it seems as though it is completely arbitrary and incredulous. However, perhaps the average person is worth more than $126,000.00 (to whom it doesn't say)--based on what they contribute and consume in their average lifetime. This "average" person will also have negative impacts on his or her environment, for example. When the positive and negative contributions are calculated, perhaps one can put a monetary value on it.

As revolting as this may seem to you, no matter what value you place on human life--whether it be 99 million--it will always be equal to another commodity, such as 99 million orders of french fries from McDonalds. And, if the value of human life truly is that high--which to our government I assure you it is not-- then the government, theoretically run by rational men and women, would weigh the value of human life with issues such as health care, war, and the wrongful death penalty convictions. If the value of life was in fact 99 million, what could the benefits possibly be from war that would compensate for this loss?

This leads me to believe that perhaps there are personal gains from the indirect, or direct, loss of life that exceed the individual reaps. It is difficult for people to be rational unless they are trying to benefit themselves the best they possibly can. This is terrifying. The government is not made up of worldly, selfless individuals. It is made up of people who are constantly trying to maximize their gains, just like the rest of the population, but these are the people that make huge, important decisions. Doesn't that worry you?