Old Man, Look At My Life

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New at Reason: When the old fogeys and the tree huggers team up, watch your wallet. Julian Sanchez reports on the unholy alliance against actuarial reality at the EPA.

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  1. AARP to Christie Whitman:

    “We want more life, fucker.”

  2. As before:

    I’m old. Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!

  3. Crazy EPA. Would I be penalized any less if I got drunk and cut down some of those ancient California redwoods. Same grounds. Those trees are pretty Goddamn old.

  4. Life being of infinite value is an old and fine use of “infinite,” without bounds. It does _not_ mean “big.” It means that you can’t calculate with it. It’s neither big nor small. You need some other argument than value, in other words, for life.

    “We have to get these Indians off our land” for instance. Somebody could work out a value that implies in that circumstance, but that’s an effect not a cause.

    That’s not a mistake about the value of life but about sociality.

  5. Seems like the very young shouldn’t be worth much. A one or two month old child can be replaced in under a year, good as new. A 70 yo may not be worth the as much as a 45 yo, but his experience should put him above a 2 year old. If they are going to bother doing cost benefit analysis, I’d like to see something a bit more elaborate than just two levels. A 10 yo could have given them that (and for much less than what this study cost). Let’s see a cost benefit analysis starting at conception (0) and running through 120 or 130 yo. I’m guessing there would be a rather flat slow climb until adolesence, then start to climb more quickly, start to level out in the late 30’s, peak around 50, then start going down. The reduction would be slow at first, but start to become steeper around 70 or so (likely to coincide with retirement). I don’t see the amount ever returning to zero, just sort of levelling out ad infinitum.

    Once they get this curve done, and the bitchfest is over, the can do two separate ones for men and women. Not sure how they would compare, but it would be interesting. Would one peak higher? peak first? climb earlier? level out sooner? who knows, but what fun it would be.

  6. Maybe people could be valued according to their karmic accomplishment, how close they are to Nirvana. The closer they are, the less other people have to worry about them or spend money on them.

  7. When the pollution lobby and the utopian capitalists team up, watch your lungs.

  8. At this point, I’m all for ‘Logan’s Run’-style liquidation.

  9. General Motors lost a big lawsuit of this type of calculation… establishing a ‘value’ to a human life based on how much the lawsuit would cost if someone dies and they are sucessfully sued, and then using it as a cost benefit analysis on safety improvements. It apparently turned the tide of the jury to allow one of those huge multihundred million dollar ‘punitive’ settlements. My question here is, if it is immoral for a private organization to set a value for a human life, why is it OK for the government to do so? Or, for that matter, the judge or jury in a court case involving a wrongful death? Is it just that we suspect their motives more?

    The best proposal I’ve seen to resolve the ‘cost benefit analysis’ issue is to balance the cost to life by the loss of income. We don’t know what one life is worth, but we do know that all are supposedly equal. It has been shown that as income is decreased, mortality is increased, and vice versa. Therefore, one can calculate that for X dollars spent on a proposed regulation, Y number of manyears of life is lost due to reductions in the net wealth of society. If the regulation does not produce at least Y manyears or more savings, it isn’t worth implementing. That resolves the sticky issue of putting a dollar value on a life (but not, of course, for companies seeking to optimise product liability and product costs, or juries attempting to settle civil suits involving deceased plaintiffs).

  10. BTW, on previous topic.. the seemingly cynical use of average lawsuit payouts as a calculation of the value of a human life, is actually determined by the court system, since they (and/or the juries) determine the average payout by making their own judgements on the value of a life. So in principle there is no real moral distinction between a jury doing this calculation and a self-interested corporation doing it, because it’s still the same party who is truly determining this value.

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