The Value of Life

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“If it saves just one human life, it’s worth it.” That’s how opponents of free markets have justified hundreds of environmental and safety regulations. And sure enough, studies by scientists and economists suggest that the regulations implemented on this rationale some- times save lives at the cost of tens of billions of dollars each. For example, according to risk assessment scholar W. Kip Viscusi, OSHA’s regulation of formaldehyde costs consumers and taxpayers $76 billion for every life it saves.

Cynical political observers have long suspected that proponents of such measures don’t really value human life as much as they hate the free market. Now there’s evidence that what the cynics have suspected is true. A little article in The Wall Street Journal (Feb. 14) reports that the Bush administration is “considering whether to recommend” a change in the law making it a crime for a person to sell a kidney or other body organ so it can be transplanted into the body of someone whose life depends on it. The change would allow payments if they were “understood as a thank you” and “not a bribe,” so it wouldn’t quite legitimate the hated free market. And substantial opposition remains. The boss of the United Network for Organ Sharing, a “non-profit” group that”coordinates transplants for the federal government,” opposes the measure on the theory that paying someone for an organ would be “unduly coercive to certain segments of the population.”

Why are the Bush administration and the American Medical Association considering this proposed reform? The reason is that every year 5,500 Americans die while waiting

Over the past 18 years, more than 100,000 Americans have died simply because politicians and various puritans hate the free market.


for an organ to be transplanted. This indicates that since payments for organs were outlawed 18 years ago, more than 100,000 Americans have died simply because politicians and various puritans in the medical community hate the free market.

OSHA regulators are willing to force people to spend $72 billion to save a single life, which suggests that they’d be willing to spend $7,200,000,000,000,000 – about what the federal government’s total spending for 3,500 years would amount to at current levels – to save the 100,000 lives lost because it is illegal to pay for organs for transplant. But how much would it cost to save these lives if organ sales were legal? The article says that payments would range from $300 to $3,000 each.

Okay, which would you rather do? Save 100,000 lives at a cost of $30 million to $300 million, by allowing the market- place to operate freely? Or spend $72 quadrillion to save those same lives, by regulating the market?

The bottom line is this: Hostility to the free market runs so deep that thousands die needlessly each year because of it. Even Republicans, who claim to be defenders of the free market, are only “considering” getting rid of the anti-market regulations 0 and saving 5,500 lives every year.

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