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The Price of Human Life

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Many people feel the price on human life should be infinite. I will examine two statements:

"No one should ever die because they can't afford medical care" -- a meme that was travelling around Facebook around the time Obamacare went through.

"Car companies should never compromise safety to save money" -- I hear this one a lot.

"No one should EVER die because they can't afford medical care"

Many people feel this is the case.

About half the people in the US die in hospitals. That's about a million people a year.

The vast majority of people who die in hospitals could be kept alive for a few more hours, sometimes weeks, sometimes months, of agonizing pain if, say, we were willing to spend $10 million on each of them. People who die of heart problems could be kept alive, with enough money, for a long time if they were put on the sort of heart / lung machines that are used on people who receive heart transplants. People whose digestive systems are ruined could easily be fed intravenously. Stroke victims whose brains are basically ruined and not sending correct signals to the body could be kept alive by sedating their brains, connecting electrodes to their spinal cord and sending the right signals to keep the body alive.

About a million Americans die in hospitals a year. A million times 10 million is 10 trillion dollars. US GDP is about $15 trillion dollars. Would that be worth it? Basically, the money is just not there.

One problem with the US health care system is that most people have insurance, and they want their insurance to pay any price for medical care. A basic principle of negotiation is that when you're buying something, if the party you're negotiating with knows you won't walk away from a deal, you have no bargaining power, and the sky's the limit on the price. If you're not willing to walk away, which is usually the case with people who have insurance with a fixed co-pay, medical prices rise and rise and rise, much faster than inflation. It's one of the biggest problems our economy faces.

It should be noted that the price of cosmetic surgery, which most insurance doesn't pay for, has not been even keeping up with inflation. When people are spending their own money, unlike when they have "spare no expense" health insurance, they shop around and get better deals.

"Car companies should NEVER compromise safety to save money"

People often seem to feel that if a car company makes such compromises, criminal charges should be pressed against them.

Let's imagine what a car and roads that make no compromises for safety would be like.

A car would have to, I suppose, be able to keep its passengers safe in a head-on collision with an 18 wheel semi. So it would have to be massively armored, at least as heavy as an M-1 Abrams tank. Mileage for tanks is usually measured in gallons per mile. So say it gets half a mile per gallon.

It would cost something like a half a million dollars, more than a typical house. To buy one, you would need to take out a 30 year loan. Since it's going to cost so much to buy one, and there's no way the average American can afford to buy another one during that 30 years, it has to be well-built enough to last at least 30 years. Add another $200,000 for that increase in quality. Maybe you'll need to take out a 40 / 50 year loan, so it has to last 40 / 50 years. Add another $100,000 for that further increase in quality. So that's $800,000 for a car.

For safety, speed limits should be MUCH slower, about 20 miles an hour, in case you run into a building or a mountain or make a head-on collision with another tank like yours, and to make sure you don't accidentally drive over a cliff. If you live 30 miles from work, nowadays, travelling at 60 mph, you will spend an hour a day commuting. Let's assume you never travel except for work. Obviously, you'll travel more that that, but let's make that optimistic assumption.

If you now travel at 20 mph, it will now take you 3 hours every day to commute. During a career starting at 22 years old and ending at retirement at 67 years old, you commute over 11,000 days in your life. Times 2 hours of lost time per day, that's 22,000 hours. One year is 8766 hours, or about 5844 waking hours per year. So that's about 3.5 years of your waking life wasted by commuting at 20 mph. It's pretty doubtful whether all these safety-improving measures will increase your life expectancy by that much.

And all that travelling at 2 gallons per mile, with gasoline at at least $2.50 a gallon, for 250 working days per year times 60 miles, is 60 * 250 * 2.5 is over $37,000 a year spent on gasoline, just for commuting. And if everybody was driving these gas-guzzling tanks, it would drive the price of oil up astronomically. Actually, the US would basically be consuming more gasoline than current world production.

And the increase in global warming could cause catastrophic climate change sooner, with huge crop failures, thus massive death by starvation.

One could live closer to work. Since that means you would have less choice of jobs, you would have to work at a crummier job for lower pay. Good luck paying for that $800,000 car and huge amount of money worth of gas.

Let's face it, the price of human life is finite.