How Much Are You Worth? An Examination of the Value of Human Life in Public Policy
Wallace, Stephen Joel
One of the objectives of public policy is to attempt to address the unintended consequences of our individual and collective activities as a society. Various federal agencies are charged with regulating these "externalities" to protect citizens through the promulgation and enforcement of regulations. One crucial tool used to implement public policy is cost benefit analysis to ensure that resources are applied in the most effective manner. However, when implementing policies addressing areas such as occupational health and safety, public health, and environmental stewardship, there are inherent uncertainties in the calculation. Probably the most controversial of all uncertainties is how much value is placed on human life in assessing benefits. Distilling the value of life down to any economic number has the obvious peril that it can always appear devalued. This thesis will explore the issues involved with placing value on human life and applying that to public policy.C. B. Macpherson assets that western liberal democracies such as the United States follow a theory of possessive individualism which comes from the philosophies of Hobbes and Locke. Macpherson further asserted that economic justice will suffer as a result.This thesis explores the fundamental question of why our society puts a value on human life in public policy, and the results that are obtained. It studies whether using cost benefit analysis and assigning a "value of a statistical life" as a basis for public policy is a manifestation of Macpherson's possessive individualism, and if so, does this approach lead to the negative consequences Macpherson predicted. It examines both the theory and practice of assigning a value to life, and links this philosophical issue to the works of various scholars who express concerns about the conflicts of values and limitations of policy analysis, especially cost benefit analysis. It explores the role of policy analysts and decision makers within agencies to determine how subjectivity during the regulatory impact analysis factors into the process.
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