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Wanted: Dead or Alive

February 28, 2011

Give me what I want, and nobody gets hurt

Your death (and to some extent, your life) is of great value within a capitalist system. I’ll bet you weren’t thinking about that right now.

Here you thought you could simply pay your life insurance bill each month, invest in a Roth IRA, let your children know that you’d like to have your ashes scattered in Maui, create your online Last Will and Testament, and run off to play bridge for the afternoon.

Little did you know that behind closed doors, Washington D.C. is, even now, discussing your life and death.

Here’s how it plays out.

Alive, you’re worth approximately $9.1 million to the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s how much they budget each person’s life to be worth to them (under the Obama regime; under the Bush regime, of course, being fiscal conservatives and not wanting to shell out a penny more than they had to, it was less, only $6.8 million. You’re talking about the Republicans, after all, who come from the Mao Tse Tung school of Consumer Politics, wherein mere peasants are not worth the cost of their rice bowl).

In the Cost-Benefit Ratio game of Life, your value as a human being on this planet is carefully calculated and appraised for its worth. Not to society; oh no. To Big Business. Now, the Food and Drug Administration wants to spend less on you (I think because providing peas and corn is cheaper than closing that nuclear waste dump across the street from your house). The FDA only thinks you’re worth $7.9 million. For that price, they are willing (this is a barter system, after all: your life for their product) to put pictures of cancer victims on cigarette packages. This is to show you they care. Isn’t that nice? If they didn’t care, they’d save themselves the money it’s gonna cost to print these labels, so you should be thanking them.

The Transportation Agency thinks I’m only worth approximately $6 million. That means they’re not going to fix that dangerous road I have to drive across state, I guess; if they valued me more highly, they’d be right on it. I feel so unloved. On the other hand, knowing that $6 million per person is what they’re budgeting for, I guess I should feel honored whenever I get behind the wheel, knowing that this is what they’re going to spend to make sure I buckle my seatbelt.

Investment, American-style

The point is this: the dictates of federal agencies control practical, real-life decisions businesses make about where to invest their capital. The Ford automobile company looks at how much the Transportation Agency thinks I’m worth, and then decides whether or not to reinforce the roof on the next car they sell. I’d like for Big Business to value my life more highly, but they could decide that if the government thinks I’m worth less, they might as well too. No need to try very hard to preserve a life that is relatively value-less, right? On the other hand, being “worth” more has its costs, which are passed on to the little guy, you and me.

….some industry representatives said assigning a value to life was inherently subjective, and that recent changes were driven by the [Obama] administration’s pursuit of its regulatory agenda rather than scientific considerations…. but [t]he Bush administration rejected a plan in 2005 to make car companies double the roof-strength of new vehicles…

At the time, Transportation officials figured that the cost of the roofs would exceed the value of lives saved by almost $800 million. So the agency proposed a smaller increase in roof strength that might save 44 lives a year. Last year, the Obama administration imposed the stricter and more expensive roof-strength standard, and it published a new set of calculations, showing that the benefits outstripped the costs.

Most of the difference came from the increased value of human life. By raising that number to $6.1 million from a figure of $3.5 million in the original study, the Obama administration rendered those 135 lives — and hundreds of averted injuries — more valuable than the roofs. —New York Times, Feb. 16, 2011

Wake up, America! Civilization calls, and it's a long-distance number

Businesses, strapped by costs of higher-priced changes they’re now forced to make to their products and services, are going to find a way to pass those costs on to the consumer. So the fact that the EPA, the FDA, and the Transportation agency “value” my life more highly is something of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, I’m glad they care; on the other, they could have sent a Hallmark card.

That would have been fine, because these upgrades are costing me, making me highly ambivalent about whether I want the Department of Homeland Security valuing my life so highly that they’re willing to up the ante by 100% to prevent me from dying in a terrorist attack. I appreciate their concern, but the costs attached are strings you and I will now be paying for. Pat-downs are not merely intrusive, it turns out, they’re friggin’ expensive.

Now, big business saves money every time they decide against investing in saving my life. Big business is clever, though; it will find all sorts of ways to get the money regulatory commissions steal from its bottom line, back from you, the little person.

One way they’ve found to make a whole lot of money is to take out a life insurance policy on someone who has real value to them: their highest-paid workers, the dudes and dudettes that are hardest to replace. This is a rather interesting and insidious game corporations play all the time: investing in the death of their workers (even those lower on the totem pole).

You might have a paltry $250,000 life insurance policy because that’s all you can afford to buy, but your corporation has much more capital to invest in you, and upon your demise, will be raking in the shekels across your grave. Your nearest and dearest, of course, won’t see a penny of this money made over your corpse; the proceeds go to the corporation, who justifies this practice by claiming that it had a lot invested in you, you ingrate, and then you upped and died, putting them at a market disadvantage while they found your replacement. Awwww. It almost makes you feel bad for the poor corporation, doesn’t it?

In the corporate practice dubbed “Dead Peasants” life insurance, companies wager on employees’ lives, expecting to make money when they die. Dozens of blue chip companies have these policies… [b]ut only banks are forced to reveal them, and several have billions of dollars worth of policies. [L]ife insurance policies were designed to allow companies to insure a few crucial executives. Savvy companies then realized they could also get a tax break by insuring many lower-level employees.

Naturally, those who put an emotional, sentimental value on life are appalled by this practice, so a lot of families who find out that corporations do this end up suing, feeling a lot of umbrage, no doubt. It does seem pretty tacky to make money off of someone’s life or death, doesn’t it? So much for the idea that human life is priceless; the economics of politics tells a different story these days, here in the Land of the Free, the Home of the Brave.

Nowadays we're pretty expensive, actually

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