Monday, December 12, 2011

Reason #86: VSLs

Have you ever seen Fight Club? There's a big speech near the beginning about how car companies have an actual mathematical process to determine their recall procedures - in short, if the lawsuits stemming from implementation of a defective part are estimated to be cheaper overall than the cost of recalling the part, they don't do the recall.

Turns out the government does that as well. Kinda.

The automatic Republican response whenever new environmental or safety regulations are proposed is always to bemoan the cost to businesses; it turns out, the government knows all too well how much a ban on, say, turpentine in Coca-Cola will cost the beverage industry. What they do with that information, then, is compare it to their department's VSL, or Value of a Statistical Life. If the lives it could save outvalue the cost to businesses, well, tough shit.

Assigning even a theoretical dollar value to a human being is icky from a PR standpoint, but when you think about it, this can actually be a fairly reasonable way of setting policy - indeed, the actual dollar value goes up and down based on various factors (up for cancer-fighting measures, perhaps, because cancer is seen as worse than the average malady; or down for older people, whom the Bush administration amusingly deemed to be of less value than the average person).

And if you're curious - they try to avoid talking about it, understandably, but according to the most recent story I found, the EPA currently values one human life at around $8 million.

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