Thursday, June 16, 2011

On Valuing Lives

Professor Ben Trachtenberg's article entitled "Health Inflation, Wealth Inflation, and the Discounting of Human Life" just went to print in the Oregon Law Review, and it's well worth a read.  In this thought-provoking article, Professor Trachtenberg provides new arguments against discounting human lives in agencies' regulatory cost-benefit analyses.  He argues that economically (not even ethically) speaking, those who calculate regulatory benefits ignore society's increasingly high willingness to pay for healthcare and the rising standard of living in developed countries.  He provides two case studies to support these points, describing greenhouse gas controls and--for any techies out there--the NASA Asteroid Deflector.  In a practical application of Professor Trachtenberg's points, might individuals be able to influence agencies' calculation of benefits by arguing in the notice and comment process that the benefits are too low?  Under a cynical public choice model, perhaps not. But if agencies do take comments seriously, criticisms like those raised in Health Inflation might just persuade them to change their calculations--at least a bit.   

-Hannah Wiseman

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