Summary Value of Life lecture
Value of Life Lectures: Revised outline, Dec. 2010
1. Decisions about policies that have implications for the risk to life arise in many
fields – e.g. transport, health, climate change, and so on.
How can the value of life be
incorporated into any cost-benefit analysis [CBA] of such projects?
view that cannot monetise value of life and so trade it off against other
costs and benefits.
Incommensurability. Or life is ‘sacred’, or Kantian view that
human beings must be treated as ‘ends’ not ‘means’, etc.
But objections to the heroic view, such as that, for society as a whole, one is only
talking about changing average expectation of duration of life – so life years and
probability of losing or gaining a few days in everybody’s average expectation of life,
which does not sound ‘sacred’. Also, talking not about a specific
life, but a
– i.e. any project in a country with a population of 50 million, , say,
10 people will be killed, so that there is one in 5 million chance of being killed, not
knowing in advance who.
However, this objection is not decisive.
Social function of preserving respect for life.
Reflected in sentencing policy, for
example, where same sentence for murder irrespective of age of victim.
Main objection to the heroic approach is that simply not feasible.
over whole of national produce to make lives as safe - and as long as – is technically
So have to strike a balance between social value of respect for life and
social cost of preserving lives or avoiding deaths.
Big problems in valuing life for purposes of project selection.
CBA just shows
that winners could compensate losers and have something left over, so if
compensation is made would be a P-opt. move.
But does not mean that B>C is
move since other considerations [notably income distribution]; or that if B<C is
move, for same reason. Also, generally accepted that, in almost all cases,
compensation either not feasible, or not paid anyway.
And have to fall back on gains
on swings offset losses on roundabouts in a large society with thousands of projects
But this does not apply to a policy that will entail some loss of lives, for IF