Friday, July 11, 2008

I'm Worth $6.9 mm According to EPA; My Bank Disagrees

AmericaBlog reports that the EPA has reduced the value of a human life to $6.9 million. If memory serves it was nigh on $8 million just a few years ago. This is the number that the EPA plugs into its cost benefit analyses when it considers regulatory action. If a regulatory action would prevent your death at a value of $6.9 million, the regulatory action had better cost less than $6.9 million or it wouldn’t be worth doing. Of course, a lot of times the EPA is dealing with fractional probabilities of death, so it could be that a 10% chance that you would be killed absent regulatory action would not be acted upon unless it cost less than $690K. A 1% chance would have to be fixable at a cost of less than $69K.

I’m pretty sure the costs are not just the direct costs of the EPA, although these may be included. Rather the costs are what compliance with a regulatory action would cost businesses. I bet businesses are all too happy to help EPA with spreadsheets showing all the costs of compliance. The people whom the EPA is supposed (by na├»ve, deluded souls) to protect don’t get any say in what the benefits are. Your life is worth is $6.9 million. Period. A business could kill you for all EPA cares as long as it would cost more than that to avoid it.

I wonder if EPA just pulled this number out of its figurative institutional ass. I’m not saying the number is too high or too low, just that these kinds of judgments aren’t so easily reducible to dollars and cents. Since this is a "statistical" human life, the value should represent an average of many dimensions. If you kill a centenarian, it might not be as big a deal as if you killed a baby. Or maybe centenarians are more valuable because they are so rare, and babies are a dime a dozen. If you killed a hobo, would that be less valuable than killing a surgeon? What if you killed a flaming asshole versus a really nice guy? The EPA number presumably accounts for variations in the value of individual lives.

Of course, we all reckon that our lives are priceless. Our mothers agree.

No comments: