Is every life priceless? Can a dollar figure be placed upon a person? Write down what you think before reading ahead. Then consider again at the end of this article.
If every life is priceless to society, society would mobilize a total war type of effort on diseases, accidents, and other preventable sources of death. Society would shut down all efforts that did not help save lives; there would be no entertainment, sports, movies, luxury products and services, etc. Society actually does not put in much of an effort at all at reducing preventable deaths… Only a few percentage points of GDP go into things like safer vehicle regulations and medical research. Do you personally dedicate all of your time and effort to reducing preventable deaths? If not, you don’t consider lives priceless.
If lives are not priceless, what are they worth? Can we put a dollar figure on it?
Dollars are simply a representation of favors. You give me a few dollars for the favor of building you a website, and I give you dollars for the favor of giving me food and housing. Maybe sometimes I exchange the favors I’ve earned to take my family on a camping trip.
You may be willing to do someone the favor of saving their life if it doesn’t cost you too much effort and it is directly visible to you. You may not be willing to contribute your dollars and favors to reducing deaths from heart disease (this is hard for you to see progress and hard to know if your favors do any good), but if you see a toddler walking alone into traffic you would be willing to put out effort to do her the favor of grabbing her and saving her life (easy to see how doing so saves her life, and doesn’t cost you much).
So where is the line drawn on what is too much effort / money? That line would be the price a life is worth to you.
All lives are not equal. You may be willing to pay every dollar you have and spend the rest of your life doing whatever it takes to save the life of your child, but you probably aren’t willing to do that for a child you met briefly and have no relationship with. You would be even less willing to do so for a child you have never met living on another continent.
You may be willing to put more money and effort into saving the life of a child with a long life ahead than an elderly person who has little life left anyways?
You may see saving the life of someone doing a lot of good in the world like Elon Musk as more important and more worthy of your dollars than saving the life of someone like Vladimir Putin who is doing evil. You may even place a negative value on the lives of evil people… Meaning you would pay money to see them dead.
State insurance companies represent all of us in the value of a life to society. Payouts typically range by the income of the person killed, but can be around a few hundred thousand dollars. Society even values the loss of specific limbs. A toe in California is worth $6,000 and a toe in Oregon is worth $90,000. A lot of this is based on judgment calls, but pricing human lives is a common part of our society.
Most of us are not even willing to give up our entertainment (worth only a few dollars) to save lives. Every life is definitely not priceless to society.
For many individuals, even their own life is not priceless to them. I have known elderly people who refused expensive medical treatments so they would not ruin the inheritance they were going to leave for their heirs. This unselfish view makes sense… If you only have a little more life to gain at enormous cost, should you do so at the cost to your children and grandchildren and society?
Life is full of trade offs and valuing the lives of others and our own life is an everyday occurrence.
What is the life of evil dictators who murder others worth? Would you spend even $10 to save the life of someone like Osama Bin Laden? Or would you pay money, perhaps $10,000, to have a murdering dictator killed to prevent more murderers from happening? America spent billions of taxpayer dollars to hunt down and kill Osama Bin Laden.
When you consider this, what is the life of a criminal worth? Is it really worth millions of dollars imprisoning them for life when they have only harmed society and will never provide a benefit? Perhaps the death penalty is sensible in cases like this?
What is the life of a drug addicted bum worth? Should society pay for multiple stints in rehab for someone who may never provide any value to us? Should we pay for housing and feeding people who either refuse to work or are unable to do so?
Should society bankrupt the future and the young by paying for benefits like Social Security so the elderly live better lives now? The young people paying for these benefits will never get them. The elderly who receive these benefits falsely claim they earned them and criticize the young for supposedly being lazy and eating avacado toast.
I prefer to let each individual answer these questions for themselves. If I want to save someone’s life, I can direct my money and effort into doing so. If you wish to save another person, and have the means to do so, by all means go ahead. I dislike having the government force me at gunpoint to contribute to saving people I have no interest in. What about you?