E-pistle February 18

The Gospel and Cost-Benefit Analysis

I hope you have heard me say, as I do from time to time, that I have the best job in the world. I mean it. I pray that I never forget it.

One of the many joys of the job is the privilege of serving as a sounding board for new ideas and curious questions and as the recipient of your best thoughts, puzzled musings and sometimes serendipitous discoveries. Thank you.

Just this past week one of you was kind enough to send me the link to a New York Times article that probably fits in the last category of serendipitous discoveries. With gratitude to my correspondent, I forward it to you: As U.S. Agencies Put More Value on a Life, Businesses Fret.

It turns out that in order to justify certain regulations, a monetary value has to be assigned to the lives the regulation may save.  For instance, until recently, the Department of Transportation figured that a human life was worth $3.5 million. Using that figure they told auto manufacturers to make car roofs stronger. Their calculations showed that the cost of the new roofs would be less than the $150 million cost of the 44 lives they hoped would be saved.  But the new math puts the cost of a life at $6.1 million and the DOT figures we can afford even more stringent standards since the cost of the 135 lives saved, over $800 million, is more than the cost of the new regulations.

Seems like a rather macabre science. We could have saved your life when your car rolled, but the cost-benefit analysis said it wasn’t worth the effort.  Even yet, it seems that a regulation that will impose a cost of $6.2 million per saved life will not be worth the benefit. Drive safely.

More than that, though, it turns out that not all lives are created equal.  White collar lives are more valuable than blue collar lives and American lives are more valuable than, say, Indian lives.  It’s all here is a Harvard Law School paper written by the Vanderbilt professor mentioned in the New York Times article

According to the Harvard study, the market value of lives in Taiwan and South Korea are less than $1 million apiece (Table 1, page 18 of the paper), less than one-seventh the market value of a typical American life.

So I have been thinking. If you were in worship on Sunday, you heard about the two month old baby seen by our doctors at the clinic in San Lucas Toliman.  She weighed around seven pounds at birth, gained a pound and then began to lose weight. When Dr. Vic Rivera examined her, she weighed less than six pounds. They call it “failure to thrive”; she was slowly dying. Thanks to the grace of God and the intervention by our medical team and $300 worth of formula and supplements, this baby should live. But even so, I wonder what the market value of her life might be.  Not much, I would guess.

My friend who sent the New York Times story added just a short note to the link about the value of a life: “In reality, it cost God His Son.”

That’s it. I understand that market values must be set for purposes of insurance claims and safety regulations. I understand that we cannot afford to do all we might do – to save a life or educate a child; to build safer cars or healthier families. And I understand that in our fallen world God calls his people to do more than we think we are able to do even though it is still not enough.  But God is able and he was willing to pay an infinitely high price that we might live – joyfully now and forever.

For God the standard is not market economics. It is love. Thanks be to God.

See You Sunday!