Government is raising the value of a life

The Environmental Protection Agency set the value of a life at $9.1 million last year in proposing tighter restrictions on air pollution. The agency used numbers as low as $6.8 million during the George W. Bush administration.

The Food and Drug Administration declared that life was worth $7.9 million last year, up from $5 million in 2008, in proposing warning labels on cigarette packages featuring images of cancer victims.

The article is here.  If the goal is to give current people what they want, arguably this makes sense and perhaps it does not go far enough.  Death is…BAD.  If the goal is to maximize real gdp per capita, or most other macroeconomic indicators, it makes sense to value human life at replacement cost (and here) and this policy change does not make sense.  I'm not arguing for either standard and indeed I think they both lead to absurdities.  Instead the point is this: theoretical ordinal welfare economics and applied welfare economics, as represented by wealth measures, do not coincide as much as many economists like to think.  This gap becomes increasingly important as health care and safety provision increase, relative to the size of the economy as a whole.

What the Chinese have done is to neglect health care investments (until very recently) and basically maximize gdp growth.  They wanted to have fewer people anyway, so why spend money to keep ailing people around?  We find this horrible when presented in such explicit terms, and yet we admire their achievement of the end of growth maximization.


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