That's one way, at least, to explain a recent decision by the EPA to lower the value attached to the life of the average American by 20 percent in the past five years. The Agency announced that an average American's life is worth $6.9 million today, vs. $8.5 million five years ago (in 2008 dollars).
The reason for this acknowledgment, of course, was not to confess how bad a manager Bush has been but to lower the value the administration has to use when figuring out where to set health or safety standards -- or determining whether it's worthwhile to act to prevent runaway global warming. The less a life is worth, the weaker the safety standards warranted to protect it.
It's not clear whether the EPA really has any scientific basis for this devaluation -- the experts it cited said their data did not support the change. But there is an important back story here. Right after Bush came into office, the Office of Management and Budget, under the leadership of regulatory czar John Graham, lowered the value of life used by the OMB even more drastically -- to $3.7 million. Then Graham tried to lower the value of the life of someone over 50 by arguing that the last few years of life had less value. This rapidly was dubbed "the senior death discount," and prompted then EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman to say that the EPA would have nothing to do with Graham's calculus of life's worth and his characterization of death as a money saver.
So EPA had held on to its historic valuation of life (in constant dollars.) But now, in yet another sign that Stephen Johnson is the worst EPA Administrator in history, he has caved in to the White House and started lowering the value attached to the average American. This discounting the value of life -- especially lives saved in the future -- is a central piece to the reactionary prospectus that Dick Cheney brought with him. It turns out, for example, that the biggest difference in how global-warming deniers evaluate the potential effects of global warming is not in their calculations of the physical or social impacts of warming -- those differ, but not by that much. What differs dramatically is how highly they value saving a million lives in a hundred years. Reactionaries attach a low value to each life -- say the current earnings of residents of Africa -- and then discount them by up to 10 percent a year. When you do this, you find that a life in seven years is worth only half as much as one today. In 14 years your child's value is only a quarter of yours today. And in 100 years a human life is worth only 1/100 of a percent of what it is worth today -- using Graham's $3.7 million figure, the value of saving a life in 100 years is a very modest $268. Interestingly, by this calculus the lives of the entire current population of the U.S. are worth only around $81 billion by 2108 -- less than what we spend today on the war in Iraq. Hardly worth saving, wouldn't you say?
Well, you might think that it's worth saving that life, but the people running the country right now do not -- and neither do the people who are advising John McCain.
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