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The Value of Life During COVID_19 Essay

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Updated: Feb 24th, 2022

The era of the global pandemic of the COVID-19 infection has raised multiple fundamental questions in social morale, and the United States is no exclusion. In this context, the officials and the media have built a narrative that constructs a dichotomy between the economy and human lives. While some try to assess the cost of a life, others insist it should be out of the question as any economy is supposed to serve its society. Nevertheless, this discussion is not entirely new if one draws their attention to the discussion on environmental degradation and poverty.

To begin with, there is a pragmatic approach that seeks answers to the question of human life value in mathematics. As Adam Rogers claims, it still appears to be significantly challenging: at first, the decision-making units used to search for assessing a death’s costs (2020). However, the issue under discussion is not new either: for instance, one of the most convincing approaches that used VSL data was developed in 1981 by Kip Viscusi (Rogers, 2020). The possibility of an American citizen’s death on a job every year is about 0,0001, while “in return, people got paid an extra $300 a year for incurring that risk” (Rogers, 2020, p. 28). Thus, in this model, VSL estimates are between 9 and 11 million dollars, adjusted for inflation (Rogers, 2020, p. 28). It is only one of the possible approaches to the problem which demonstrates: experts make an effort to assess the value of a life – or death, in many cases.

Meanwhile, there is a dramatically differentiating vision of the problem. Some fairly criticize the question of whether the economy or human lives are more valuable. As Paul Krugman points out, the economy is supposed to serve society, and if its work contradicts the common good like health, it must be seen as problematic: “There is a clear relationship between income and life satisfaction. But it’s not the only thing that matters. In particular, do you know what also makes a major contribution to the quality of life? Not dying” (2020, p. 5). In other words, the economy is not an autonomous system that should function for its own sake but individuals’ wellbeing. This point is understandable; however, the author does not consider that living and even surviving without an income or a job requires social support. That direction of policy is not unequivocally perceived in American society either.

Finally, as for the place of poverty and inequality in the question raised, there is another dimension that political economists tend to analyze in this context: environmental degradation. James K. Boyce argues that inequalities of power lead to ecological problems: “the greater the degree of political and economic inequality, the higher the rate of environmental time preference of the rich. It is not only dictators who fear the reallocation of power and wealth. Inequalities may fatten foreign bank accounts, but they do not protect environments at home” (1994, p. 17). It is peculiar how this point on inequality is globalized nowadays: the hegemonic countries exploit the third-world’s environmental resources, as it was formulated in The Laurence Summers World Bank Memo (1991). Thus, inequality becomes another dimension of the ecological problem that directly affects people’s wellbeing around the globe.

To conclude, the political economy is currently facing an outstanding context of a global pandemic. However, experts’ questions stay the same: should a government prioritize the economy if a reasonable number of people do not benefit from its actions? There is no evident answer, as it is obvious that human life should be a priority. At the same time, it is still unclear how to guarantee a nation’s wellbeing without an effective economic model.

References

Boyce, J. (1994). Inequality as a cause of environmental degradation. Ecological Economics, 11, 1 – 20.

Krugman, P. (2020). On the economics of not dying. The New York Times. Web.

Summers, L. (1991). The Laurence Summers World Bank memo. UIO. Web.

Rogers, A. (2020). Wired. Web.

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IvyPanda. "The Value of Life During COVID_19." February 24, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-value-of-life-during-covid19/.

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IvyPanda. 2022. "The Value of Life During COVID_19." February 24, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-value-of-life-during-covid19/.

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IvyPanda. (2022) 'The Value of Life During COVID_19'. 24 February.

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