Economics and ethics: Can you put a price on life?

featuring Richard Denniss

Human life is often described as ‘priceless’ yet in practice economists regularly estimate the ‘value of a human life and policy decisions are often made with such valuations in mind. In a wide ranging interview with ABC666, The Australia Institute’s Executive Director Dr Richard Denniss discussed how and why economists attempt to value human life and, in turn, the ethical and political consequences of such techniques.

During the interview Richard quoted from two documents which highlight just how explicit economists are about the (sometimes differing) value of human lives. The first document was published by the Commonwealth Department of Finance which concludes that Australian lives are worth $151,000 per year. You can download it from http://www.royalcommission.vic.gov.au/getdoc/98620bd9-5a71-4e1f-8922-723…

The second is a memo from the former Chief Economist of the World Bank who argued that polluting activities should be moved from rich countries to developing countries because the value of human lives was considered to be lower in countries with lower wages. You can learn more here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summers_memo

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