Bryan Beverly

How to Value a Statistical Life

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bkbeverly
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Re: Value of a life
bkbeverly   11/1/2016 8:45:58 AM
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@SethB,  Good questions; no easy answers. Because this is a democracy, we have in principle reserved the right to establish what we feel is the worth of other human beings, and that price is often a function of the market place. For example, if there is a treatment plant across the tracks where the poor and working class live, then the voters (who are also often active tax payers) establish a dollar value that they will give in taxes to save the lives of those folks across the tracks. If saving lives means that community finds a consensus on how much those folks are worth, then is that the greater good?  If we say that environmentally impacted lives matter, and there is a valuation of those lives to find consensus on the tax level, then is that for the greater good? If environmental justice is how love is expressed in public policy, then do you tax the people as much as necessary to save every life, regardless of tax payer complaints? So to your point, there are competing interests - what the tax payers want to pay, what the community deems morally right, the unvarnished truth that we do establish market value to human life, the need to be a responsible public official by sacrificing the few to meet the needs of the many (that helps to get reelected too).  Yes - a lot of tough and uncomfortable questions that say a lot about us and the dollar value we put on humanity. In fact, that is why we had a civil war - there was a national public policy disagreement on the value of human beings and whether it was for the greater good of our GNP (our transition to being a world power was accelerated by our cotton exports).

Can we have social and econimic prosperity without sacrificing our moral sensibilities? Or do we reinterpret our moral sensibilities to support our fiscal initiatives?  Is the definition of the greater good absolute or relative? Does the institution serve the individual or does the individual serve the institution?

You have highlighted some very tough issues my friend!

SethBreedlove
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Re: Value of a life
SethBreedlove   10/31/2016 9:16:57 PM
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This reminds me of the different types of morality and business ethics taught in school.  Do you always do what is for the greater good, the individual be damned or is it conditional on each situation or is profit the only concern?

bkbeverly
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Re: Value of a life
bkbeverly   10/28/2016 11:11:55 AM
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@Joe, Point well taken; no perfect solutions.

Joe Stanganelli
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Re: Value of a life
Joe Stanganelli   10/28/2016 11:08:34 AM
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> this would be easy if elections could be done by the internet.

Alas, Internet elections are inherently fraught with their own unique problems (as outlined, e.g., here: enterprisenetworkingplanet.com/netsecur/hack-early-hack-often-the-perils-of-electronic-voting.html ).

Joe Stanganelli
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Re: Value of a life
Joe Stanganelli   10/28/2016 11:05:46 AM
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@PChaos: Yeah, but that could backfire just as easily.

"Yeah!  Breast cancer is still the highest-funded cancer on a per-death basis!  We're doing a great job, guys!  We're number one!!!"

(Maybe not worded quite that way, but you get my point.)

Incidentally, I am still smirking over your use of the phrase "their favorite cancers".  Love it!

bkbeverly
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Re: Value of a life
bkbeverly   10/25/2016 9:10:35 AM
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@PC - If there was public politcal will, you could force those types of choices on to ballots as referendums; this would be easy if elections could be done by the internet. It would be easier to popularize the VSL concept at the local level. To get the House and Senate or a subcommittee thereof to address this, would take some heavy lobbying.

PredictableChaos
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Re: Value of a life
PredictableChaos   10/24/2016 3:39:53 PM
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@Joe

And since a death by cancer is still a death, to some extent it doesn't matter if it is breast or lung or brain or kidney or prostate cancer.

Therefore, I do believe that federal agencies should consider the VSL as a way of setting and informing the public about research priorities. It's not the only way, but more people should know that their favorite cancers may be relatively overfunded.

Joe Stanganelli
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Re: Value of a life
Joe Stanganelli   10/22/2016 4:14:02 PM
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Breast cancer is only "more important to the public" because it has so many awareness organizations pushing it and giving it good publicity.

Cancer is cancer, though.  (A man who reaches age 70 is all but *guaranteed* to get prostate cancer.)  Breast cancer has excellent one-year and five-year survival rates if found early.  Pancreatic cancer?  Not so much.  And kidney cancer has only an 8% survival rate because it is generally asymptomatic until the late stages.

And what about lung cancer?  We tend to ignore it because we generally see it as the fault of the patient (even if the patient never smoked).

And so on and so on.  Cancer debilitates and kills, whomever has it, wherever they have it.

Joe Stanganelli
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Re: Loaded questions
Joe Stanganelli   10/22/2016 4:06:07 PM
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Depends how it's being used.

Legislatively or regulatory-wise?  In a perfect world, unsure.  But in the real world, bad, because it's based on the same kind of smarmy faulty conclusions as "For 88 cents a day, you can save so-and-so's life, give him clean water to drink, and an education."

Also, even if the original data is good, this kind of thinking is what gives us flawed public policy that leads to compliance headaches for business and an increase in expenses for most citizens and ALL taxpayers -- usually inefficaciously, as well.

Additionally, this type of supposedly data-driven policy also leads to vice taxes -- which I am inherently against regardless of the vice.  (My political stance: Either make it legal, or ban it wholesale -- but if you consider it a social ill, DON'T tax it any more than you would tax anything else.)  Vice taxes lead to government profiting of the very social ills that government supposedly wants us to protect us from -- which leads to perverse incentives (such as subsidies for tobacco farmers).

That said, the use of VSL can be very useful in terms of internal risk management, public-sector or private-sector.

kq4ym
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Data Doctor
Re: Value of a life
kq4ym   10/22/2016 11:09:40 AM
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The VSL would seem to be a valid way to determine many governmental projects, and whether they should logically move forward or not or in what direction. But, there will be many who will argue against the validity based on the premises, and many who will not comprehend the value of such statistical analysis and go for their "gut" feelings on any given question.

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