Sunday, June 25, 2006

Human Life as an Economic Calculation

The large headline atop the front page of this morning's Tennessean screams, "The Cost of Murder." The subheading, which in this instance accurately summarizes the substance of the story, tells us the cost is $110 million, most of which results from the expense of incarceration.

Pity all of us who thought that the cost of murder mostly should be measured in terms of the loss of human life, which has intrinsic and intangible value. The offensive premise of the article that the cost of murder should be calculated based on the costs to the system is reinforced by a quotation from Wharton School Professor Jean Lemaire, who suggests that understanding the costs is a key to the allocation of government resources:

Every dollar spent on a murder investigation or incarcerating a murderer is money that can't be used for other government services. This certainly makes addressing ways to lower the rate of homicides an important public policy issue.

Oh, yes. One can see all of those policy makers sitting around a table in a smoke filled room, saying, "Ya know, we gotta get this murder thing under control. It's costing us a fortune."

That is not terribly likely. Those who do not understand murder as an unacceptable moral travesty against life itself and against the liberty of the public at large are unlikely to develop sound policies for preventing it.

It is sometimes suggested that court settlements in civil litigation involve a determination of the value of a life, but that is not true. The actual purpose of valuations in those cases is only to arrive at an economic solution to the problem of determining proper damages to the survivors.

The article seemingly makes a vain effort to reinforce its theme by emphasizing the murders of the poverty stricken. That would seem to suggest again the offensive notion that the rest of us should care about those poor people getting killed because it is costing us taxpayers money. The reality is that if people don't value all human life, including the lives of the poorest of the poor, they are not likely to care about the economic fallout of one of "them" getting killed.

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