David Hines
Worthy effort
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By David Hines
February 7, 2015

A question was raised recently about valuation. Specifically, what is a human being worth? It seems an odd question. What would be the purpose of assigning a particular value? Does one intend to trade the human being for something?

Upon reflection, it seems so. Consider political rhetoric. The question is posed as to how much of somebody else's labor is to be expended on a program. "Our children deserve this thing. We need to do it for every single child!"

Apparently the married children are undeserving. And each unmarried child is worth an unspecified but large amount of somebody else's labor.

Another sort of chattel deal making involves how many lives can ethically be destroyed in pursuit of geopolitical goals. When asked about the deaths of a half million Iraqi children, Madeline Albright said that it was worth it. She gave no particular measure of worth, whether for children or for military goals, to enumerate the calculation.

Each person is likely to assign to himself a worth at or approaching infinite value. But this is useless for any calculation. There are no corresponding infinite values on the other side of the equation.

Very well. How does one reach a credible assessment? The process for goods is price discovery. What a great many people are willing to trade for the thing approaches a price equilibrium. Any other means is mere guessing.

How does this apply to persons?

Chemical composition is worth less than a buck, I believe. But what of biochemical information? The chemicals assembled as they are yield processes such as enzyme action. Does that add value?

Personal injury cases adjudicate settlement amounts for wrongful death or injury. A common basis for calculation is one's lifetime earning potential. So does the person's worth equate to the product of his labor? It seems so; when someone passes away a common question is, "What is he worth?" This makes his estate the sum of his no longer extant parts. Until the estate is settled, the deceased still has value.

What about this: How much of your time are you willing to spend upon the person? Time, like money, can be spent. This might yield some measure of worth via price discovery.

Of course many people can't stand spending time on themselves; they'd rather be occupied with television, music, or some other distraction than spend time alone with themselves. Are such persons to be offered at a discount?

If you're not going to trade something, a numerical value assigned to it doesn't matter much. If you as a person are a tradable commodity of your government, community, or other entity then it would seem necessary to decide upon worth. Politicians rhetorically treat us as such. We are called "consumers," "taxpayers," etc. Our economic value would seem to trump any intrinsic worth as persons.

If you're for sale we'd better determine your value. Otherwise it's not worth the effort.

© David Hines

 

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David Hines

Born in a mill town, David Hines has seen work as a furniture mover, computer programmer/analyst, and professional musician... (more)

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