What’s a life worth?

Gladwyn d’Souza comments from California an article that has just appeared in the New York Times on this subject. “The United States Environmental Protections Agency, EPA, should really be discussing the allocation of risk. A large curb radius for example transfers risk from the speeding driver to the pedestrian. The issue is that speed and convenience embody an energy bill whose consequences are not repatriated on the basis of least harm to public safety. While the consequences are local, an injury on your street corner, the impact under NAFTA, etc., of comparative or qualitative instead of preventive risk assessment is habitat destructive.  . . . “

From: Gladwyn d’Souza
Date: Fri Feb 18, 2011 6:09 pm
Subject: New York Times- Risk: what’s a life worth?

Taking responsibility for risk allocation would assume that the government is fulfilling a regulatory role instead of being the handmaiden of resource predation. Policy benefits should inform risk pathways and processes through the environment. Business does not contest the number, which is meaningless, rather they are antsy over the consequences of how other agencies could interpret the number. Odder yet in this case business is calling for scientific consideration.

For example in the case discussed increasing rollover roof strength benefits whom – Exxon, Saudi Arabia and GM? It doesn’t make it safer for me to stand on the corner with my umbrella waiting to cross the street; and distorts the environment to the detriment of the pedestrian. After a car crashed through my local bike shop for the third time in 17 years the owner put up a notice saying “drive through closed.” Replacing the horn with a spear on the steering column would meet more public policy goals, as Professor John Adams from University College London pointed out many years ago.

Let’s have a look at the NYT article:

As U.S. Agencies Put More Value on a Life, Businesses Fret

- By Binyamin Appelbaum. The New York Times. Published: February 16, 2011

WASHINGTON — As the players here remake the nation’s vast regulatory system, they have been grappling with a subject that is more the province of poets and philosophers than bureaucrats: what is the value of a human life?

The answer determines how much spending the government should require to prevent a single death.

To protests from business and praise from unions, environmentalists and consumer groups, one agency after another has ratcheted up the price of life, justifying tougher — and more costly — standards.

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 Transportation Department has used values of around $6 million to justify recent decisions to impose regulations that the Bush administration had rejected as too expensive, like requiring stronger roofs on cars.

. . . .Most of the difference came from the increased value of human life. By raising that number to $6.1 million from a figure of $3.5 million in the original study, the Obama administration rendered those 135 lives and hundreds of averted injuries more valuable than the roofs.

< Article continues here >

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Gladwyn d’Souza is former chair of the San Jose Bicycle Advisory Committee, Los Gatos Trails and Bike-ways Committee, and Santa Clara Valley Traffic Safe Communities Network bike pedestrian work group. He was past president of Walk San Jose and served on the board of Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. He is VP of the Peninsula Bicycle and Pedestrian Coalition and on the board of California Walks. d’Souza served on the Downtown Access Task Force and Pedestrian Component of the General Plan for the City of San Jose.  Gladwyn is an electrical engineer. In 2004 he built a sustainable house in Belmont, CA that was recognized for its use of recycling, low energy, sustainable energy, and low toxicity design elements in the construction. He is a regular commuter by transit and bicycle. When Gladwyn first started walking with his 10 year old daughter to school, they were the only ones. Now, however, many of the neighborhood families are following his example and walking together in the mornings and afternoons. (From the Great Communities Collaborative – http://www.greatcommunities.org/)

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NY TImes Readers’ Comments. Read all.

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One thought on “What’s a life worth?

  1. If you are a reader of Jonathan Swift you will possibly appreciate this arithmetic from one NYT reader:

    Comment 21. gc – California
    February 16th, 2011

    This is great, the U.S. is the wealthiest nation in the world. We have the most expensive people on earth. Our combined people worth is in excess of 3 million trillion dollars.

    We could sell some of those people to nations, that need extra citizens. $9 million per U.S. citizen. We could balance the budget, plus eliminate unemployment. This means that all those illegal immigrants are money in the bank. We should just open the borders, and make them instant citizens. Then sell them to those needy countries.

    I knew the government could figure this out, we’re saved, happy days are here again.

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    The Swift reference is of course: “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public” usually shorted for reference to “A Modest Proposal”.

    Reply

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