Posts Tagged ‘life’

What’s a Life Worth?

We commonly say that lives are invaluable, that saving a life, any life, is worth any effort, any expense. But we do not mean it.

This note is prompted by a recent article on the consequences of raising the speed limits on American highways. The authors estimated that in the decade after 1995, states’ decisions to raise posted speeds increased road fatalities by over 3% — over 12,000 additional deaths. That’s about quadruple the death toll of 9/11. Yet, it is clear that Americans wanted and still want to drive that extra 10 or so miles per hour faster. What does that show about how invaluable each life is?

How much we consider a human life worth has increased substantially over the last century, by one estimate about 30-fold. Yet, we do not spend all we can to save a life. Moreover, how much we do spend to save a life is inconstant and fickle, rather than thought-out and planned; the number typically depends on whose life we are saving.  The question is whether we can and will make studied decisions based on how we actually value a life.


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