the film noir classic, The Third Man, Orson Welles (as the
supposedly dead Harry Lime) looks down from the top of a Ferris wheel
and asks Joseph Cotton (as the very naïve Hollie Martins) about the
people moving about on the ground ... "dots" he calls 'em.
Welles poses the provocative question of
just how many dots Cotton would allow to "stop moving" if offered
$20,000 for each. How might you respond if presented with such an
offer? In a world where a child starves to death every two seconds,
just how much can one miserable life be worth? Is it obscene to talk
about humans having a monetary value? According to more than a few
corporations and government agencies, it's not obscene...it's policy.
Executive Order No. 12,292 (signed by Ronnie Raygun in 1981) states:
"Regulatory action shall not be undertaken unless the potential
benefits to society for the regulation outweigh the potential costs to
society." Before implementing a new safety regulation, all government
agencies must put it to the cost/benefit analysis test. To figure the
"benefit to society," the agency uses statistics to estimate the
number of lives expected to be saved. As for the "cost to society,"
that's estimated in dollars. Now comes the tricky part: The agency has
to assign a monetary value to each human life. Yes, you read that
right. The Feds tell each of us exactly how much we're worth. From
there, the number of projected lives saved is multiplied by the dollar
value of each life and the resulting number is compared to the
expected cost of implementing the regulation. Then the economically
based decision is made. (The going rate for one slightly used human
fluctuates from agency to agency.)
As for the corporate world, insurance companies customarily settle
wrongful-death suits by evaluating the deceased's "earning power." New
York State law, for example, allows for a settlement in a
wrongful-death case based on either economic loss or pain and
suffering prior to death. In other words, if you go rather quickly in
a car crash and you don't have much in the way of earning
potential...well, you know the rest.
For people with disabilities, the court will generously take into
account any household chores you do (or did). A professional economist
will be hired to equate a dollar amount to each domestic duty.
For a minor, however, you can count on a minimal amount of money based
on the so-called "sympathy factor."
Middle- to upper-class children born of educated parents are "worth"
more because of the assumption that they'll grow up to be productive
and educated members of the middle to upper classes.
Lastly, staying single can actually enhance your disposable status.
Anyone who is not married and dies a wrongful-death faces the legal
reality that any ensuing loss of income is considered to not harm
anyone ... thus resulting in a meager settlement. Simply put, when
looking for a bargain in the human life market, a single,
poverty-level minor with a disability can be had for a song.
I guess we're supposed to come away from this morbid exercise with a
whole new perspective on life and death and all that. Me, I'll go back
to where I started, Harry Lime who proposes: "The dead are better off
dead" (and he soon gets the chance to find out for himself).