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Article Title

The Value of Life

Abstract

This comment asks, in the context of cost-benefit analysis, what consistency requires. How much variation, if any, in valuation of life is justifiable? Inevitably, questions concerning the moral foundations of economic valuations of life will arise. Section 1 presents some evidence of variation among agency and academic valuations of life. It also outlines three different approaches to evaluation of health and safety projects. The variation detailed at the outset of section 1 is among aggregate, preference-based values of life. The subsequent discussion argues for the following claims. First, the most justifiable, "economic" approach to the evaluation of health and safety regulation is a highly disaggregated, preference-based one. The value of life as usually calculated provides an inadequate and inappropriate summary statistic on which to make decisions concerning the prevention of risks to life. Second, even the most acceptable of the commonly used preference-based approaches has several counterintuitive policy implications, the most dramatic of which are: (a) It favors the lives of the rich over the lives of the poor; (b) it favors "acute" over "preventive" interventions; (c) on plausible assumptions, it favors the aged over the young; and (d) it will often recommend policies that do not maximize the number of lives saved for a given expenditure. The wealth bias, and in part the age bias, can be avoided by using "hypothetical" preferences normalized to some wealth standard; section 3 suggests a simple, and implementable procedure, of normalization.

Comments

Natural Law Symposium: Allocating Risks and Suffering

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