April 7, 2008
What's the value of a day of freedom?
The State Compensation Law provides (Art. 26) that "If a citizen's freedom of the person is infringed, compensatory payment for each day shall be assessed in accordance with the state average daily pay of staff and workers in the previous year." For better or for worse, this establishes a uniform national standard of compensation for lost freedom, no matter where you are or what your earning power is. (Better, because surely a poor person's freedom in subjective terms cannot be said to be systematically less valuable to him or her than a rich person's; worse, because in terms of actual lost earnings of which the wrongfully imprisoned person and his or her dependents are deprived, the poor person's freedom really is less valuable.) The Supreme People's Procuracy has just told us what the number is for 2007 (and hence will be used in 2008): 99.31 yuan (US$14.17) per day.
Incidentally, this way of measuring damages - that is, with reference to average values instead of being precisely tailored to the person in question - is not limited to state compensation; it's found in wrongful death damages as well.