The value of a statistical human life under Stalin

We examine the value of a statistical life (VSL) in interwar Soviet Union. Our approach requires to address the preferences of Stalin. We model these on the basis of the policy of statistical repression, which was an integral part of the Great Terror. We use regional variation in the victims generated by this policy to structurally estimate the value that Stalin would have been willing to accept for a reduction in citizens’ fatality risk. Our estimate of this value is $43,151, roughly 6% of the VSL estimate in 1940’s US and 29% of the VSL estimate in modern India.

That is from a new paper by Paul Castañeda Dower, Andrei Markevich, and Shlomo Weber.  For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.


Who said: The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions, a statistic?

It is attributed to Stalin.

Stalin was a smart and observant evil bastard. You can read some glowing articles for the NYT's written about him during the 1930's.

Pulitzer prize winning articles too.

He also built tank factories that saved your butt! How about some blame for the idiots who gave us the Versailles Treaty and its consequences and for the isolationists and others who really hoped and prayed that the Axis would attack Stalin and then self-destruct!

"He also built tank factories that saved your butt! ... really hoped and prayed that the Axis would attack Stalin and then self-destruct"

Are you ignorant of the history of WW2? Stalinist Russia allied with Nazi Germany. Stalin and Hitler were evil buddies. The two countries took Poland apart like two wolves devouring a slow sheep.

Stalin saved his own butt after his buddy back stabbed him. Karma is a bitch.

Enough with this Nazi propaganda that the Versailles Treaty caused World War II ! The basic cause of World War II is that the Germans, in World War I, were insufficiently crushed.

Thanks to the economic profession, the death is one man is now also a statistic.

I'd like to see the comparisons as proportions of GDP per capita. Perhaps Stalin even valued a human life proportionally more than modern day India.

Also, has anyone done this for modern day US/other western industrialised countries?

This is kinda 'angels on the head of a pin' isn't it?

So excellent that he may now just be part of the MR roster, ff the link is to be trusted.

The value of the individual eggs does not matter; it is the taste of the omelette that counts.

You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs.

The end justifies the means.

Did Stalin actually say his American enablers were "useful idiots?" Long-dead Stalin, his methods, and the failed Marxist system still are admired by millions of UI's.

Allegedly it was Lenin. But of course you are right that Stalin is still more important to many Americans than the Federalist Papers.

Name two.

Well you and Bernie. No, wait, the rules are that I always have to mention Chomsky. So you and Chomsky.

Look at the top cited authors in academia. At least in the liberal arts. The Lockean tradition among educated Americans is dead. The only people they are interested in are totalitarians.

I love when you complete my joke.

Designer (possibly blind): So what do you want your site to look like?

Tyler & Alex: Just fuck shit up.

Designer: Say no more.

Designer? They aren't using any designer, they are just following a vision to involving digital strategies leading to enhancements and improvements of blogs.

Designer: "So what do you want your site to look like?"

Alex: "I don't want a design; the postings will provide a spontaneous order for the sites appearance."


Designer: "So what do you want your site to look like?"

Tyler: "Rather than asking after a design, we should think about what a design signifies to other users, who may (or may not) have a design themselves.

Designer: "So what do you want your site to look like?"

Tyler: "Just make it so clockwork_prior has new things to snark about every day. He's my bae."

$43,151 is an estimate. You wouldn't get such an exact estimate for a contractor putting an addition on your 1972 split level rambler. Or for a complete surgical cosmetic makeover to your wife's now seamed and wrinkled face. It's simply statistical poppycock.

Stalin didn't personally liquidate all those kulaks and wreckers. He needed the machinery of the nation/state to bring misery and death to millions while he was safely sequestered in the Kremlin. That's what leadership is all about. And academia is getting in on the program.

Well, so there is a way to link. At least to MR, so let's see

Apparently, one has to actually enter the following (with proper tagging) to make a link clickable?

a href="" Really? /a

Man, the future is really starting to look like the past.

Assuming this works, of course.

Seriously, they might as well have given us cents at that point. $43,151.27 per life.

It's too precise, but not necessarily inaccurate.

Though this degree of spurious precision does bug me. They should have just said "around $40k" and left a 2 sig figure estimate hidden further down. Not 5 sig figures.

You could have explained this a bit more to the non-expert that does not want to read the paper, Tyler. For example, what does this mean: "roughly 6% of the VSL estimate in 1940’s US and 29% of the VSL estimate in modern India."? Also, what drives the results?

Things may not be perfect now, but compared to life under Stalinism these are the best of times. Slightly off topic, but only slightly. Steven Pinker and his new book are often ridiculed as the musings of someone slightly off kilter, as he recites the many ways life has improved, an optimist among pessimists, pessimism being the current state of mind. In a recent interview, Pinker was asked if acknowledging progress would make us "complacent" (readers of this blog are familiar with that word). Pinker's response: "Yes, and I respond that denying progress can make us fatalistic: If all our efforts at improving the human condition have failed, why throw good money after bad? More generally, people are so jaded by the narrative of decline that they can’t think coherently about progress; the concept just doesn’t compute. I’m regularly confronted with an example of something that has gone wrong, like the opioid epidemic or a rampage shooting, as a refutation of progress — as if progress meant that everything gets better for everyone everywhere always. That wouldn’t be progress; that would be magic. Progress consists of solving problems, and problems are inevitable. So of course things can get worse for some people sometimes. A more sensible way to think about progress is the framing by Barack Obama, presumably channeling John Rawls: If you had to choose a time to be born and you didn’t know who you’d be or where you’d be, what time would you choose? The answer is now." There's a whole lot to unpack there, but I would emphasize his point in the first sentence, that pessimism serves an ideological and political purpose.

Here is the link to the interview:

Well, if one doesn’t claim the sky is falling (climate change, social justice issue flavor of the month), it’s hard to get people to give you more power and money to “fix” these problems.

Presumably a better answer, if slightly more risk-accepting is to say "10,000 years hence".

Also , Rawls underestimates how much of a chance I would take in order to become the Pharoah of the entire upper nile.

That's the facile answer, everyone thinks when they pick the time to live in from the past, they will be king or super rich then. But if you were going to be a median person, you would be crazy to pick any time than right now. And even being Pharaoh lacked many things a regular schmo has today.

I know :-)

But seriously, Rawls original position has several aching flaws; one of which is risk aversion and payoffs from inequality.

Oh, and "any time?". I'd pick at least 100+ years in the future.

Also, as Pharaoh, I will be cruel but fair - Oh Crocodiles! Clockwork Prior is here again!


"Oh Crocodiles! Clockwork Prior is here again!"

Again? I sincerely doubt that.

Was that amount the statistical value (contribution to GDP?) of a life in interwar USSR?

What was the value of a statistical ounce of gold in interwar Soviet Union?

India: one-fifth of Great Depression/WWII America. Sad.

" Our estimate of this value is $43,151, "

This is meaningless, because it creates an average. Stalin spent resources to kill a good chunk of the Soviet populace. And he protected other chunks. To be meaningful, you'd need to break it down by ethnicity, region and occupation.

How much was a conservative Ukranian farmer worth to Stalin? Roughly the price of a bullet.

Starving is cheaper

"Starving is cheaper"

Granted, but the farmers didn't starve until after the Communists (well armed thugs) came and confiscated their food.

It's always charming to meet a Marxist today and listen to them defend Stalin.

One wonders how much the contretemps in the Ukraine over the last few years reflect reverberations from that disaster. Even at 80 years distance, I suspect there's little love lost there.

Anyone who uses an apostrophe in 40s is already flaky in my view.

The areas of Ukraine most affected by the famine are most pro-Russian today. That's East and South. West is the the most anti-Russian part and they were not affected by the famine at all.

You need a different theory to explain the "contretemps."

The affected people got dead. They were Ukrainian.

Being dead, a larger share of the remaining people were Russian (presumably including post-de-facto-genocide settlers). I.e., probably the shift to Russian-speaking families in the region of mass starvation is not hugely explained by Ukrainians starting to speak Russian in the home.

Although what you mention is certainly interesting for consideration, the present demographics would seem to be more relevant to the present situation than the highly differentiated birth/death rates among Ukrainian- and Russian-speaking populations in the 1930s.

Hitler also (? not sure of whether Stalin's intent was more political suppression for non-ethnic reasons, or ethic-based genocide being a major factor) had a plan to depopulate Ukraine, in his case to repopulate it with Germans.

You obviously don't know much about Ukraine except the usual propaganda.

Can you be a little more specific about which part you believe to originate from propaganda?

Troll me's argument actually seems pretty logical to me. And you've failed to provide any counter evidence nor even a coherent argument.

"The areas of Ukraine most affected by the famine are most pro-Russian today. "

Stalin starved millions of Ukranians and repopulated with ethnic Russians. So yeah, duh.

"The famine subsided only after the 1933 harvest had been completed. The traditional Ukrainian village had been essentially destroyed, and settlers from Russia were brought in to repopulate the devastated countryside. Soviet authorities flatly denied the existence of the famine both at the time it was raging and after it was over. "

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