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Uploaded:2013-03-22
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John on the Late Late Show: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwjjWhLxf-o

Once when I like 10 years old, I was sitting in a school auditorium...I looked at all the people, and the (required) fire exits in the room. And I thought to myself that there weren't enough doors to save everyone in every situation. In order to do that, you'd have to make the whole building doors...but it wasn't worth it...so there must be some calculus to determine how much trouble / money a human life was worth.

I was right...and it's not an inhuman thing, it's important to know. And in this video, we talk about the monetary value of a human life. It's variable...depending on whether you're talking about selling the individual moments, or ending the life forever. But I don't think it should be...if we're willing to sell all the individual moments of our lives for $2M, why would we then value the act of not dying at far more than that? Maybe it's because we treasure our histories more than we treasure the moments yet to come, but that seems wrong to me.

SOURCES:
$130,000 - http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1808049,00.html
$500,000 - http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A52561-2005Jan31.html
$500,000 (for organs) - http://gizmodo.com/5904129/heres-how-much-body-parts-cost-on-the-black-market
$9,000,000 - http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/17/business/economy/17regulation.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Good morning, John.

Okay. Say that you had to put a dollar amount on the value of a human life. What would that dollar amount be?

Easy. The answer is that you can't do that; it's immoral! Inconceivable! It's incalculable, the value of a human life! Well... you know, we do it.

The government of the United States says that the minimum amount that you can sell an hour of your life for is $7.80, and the average wages of a person over their entire lives, that's about $2 million. So that's kind of the value of a human life. But no, no it's not, that's the value of their economic input. Wages are paid per hour, but they're just a surrogate for - you know - value created, for stuff made.

So let's try another angle - raw materials. Really raw materials, raw organs is what I'm talking about. Uncooked, sold on the black market. If I sold everything from my eyeballs to my forearms, I could rake it about $500,000. Not bad - I wouldn't have much fun with it, because of how I wouldn't have eyeballs or forearms.

But interestingly, $500,000 is also the number that the United States government pays to the family of a fallen soldier. But by other measures, this is very low.

Unlike working, advertising pays you for doing nothing, just for the presence of your eyeballs in front of a screen. The average cost to serve a 30-second television advertisement to a 1000 people is about $24. Math, math, math, and that's $2.88, multiplied by the number of hours in your life, if you sold all of them this way, that would be again about $2 million.

Not if we only sold the waking hours, because advertisers do not have the ability to advertise to us in our sleep; that would only be about $1.3 million.

Online video advertisements, on the other hand, can go for less than a tenth of that, so there's other reasons besides the fact that I am annoyed by them that we avoid pre-rolls. We just think they undervalue this community's time! Why is your time watching this video worth a tenth of the time of a person watching a TV show? I don't know! I think that's dumb!

But none of this is how economists actually calculate the worth of a human life or of human time; basically, they do it one of two ways. The first, is to calculate the amount of money that someone has to be paid extra, to do a job that has a certain risk of death.

So if there's a job, and it's dangerous, like lumberjack or something, and there's a 1-in-1000 chance that you're going to die doing this job, and you say, "I have to be paid $10,000 more to do that job," then you have just valued your life.

You have made the decision that your life is worth $10 million, statistically. Using this measure, various departments within the U.S. government put a value on a human life of about $6-9 million.

The second way is to calculate not how much you would need to be paid to risk your life, but how much you would actually pay to save your life. On the high end, this comes in at around $130,000 for one year of high-quality, non-painful life. So if you can extend someone's life by 10 years, and those would all be high-quality, non-painful years, that's worth about $1.3 million. And for 78 years of high-quality life, that comes out to a remarkably similar number - $10 million.

And there ends the fact-y portion of the video; now we're onto the opinion-y.

It might initially seem crass or inhuman to say that there is an economic value fo a human life, and that instead, you should just say, "We should do whatever we can to prevent death in every situation!" but eh.

To me, that presents a kind of blindness to the inevitability of death. Death has been good enough for everyone who has ever lived. So far.

It's not the moment of death where all the value gets created or lost. To me, the value is in enabling the life, all of the finite moments that we have on this planet together. It's not about preventing the death, which is going to happen anyway.

Hank, this was supposed to be kind of a silly video, and it ended up being a little bit heavy - sorry about that - you were fantastic on the Late Late Show. And we shall continue ]our discussion on how to make online video strong and awesome as the years progress, soon.

I'll see you on Tuesday.