Bush EPA says Americans are worth less
Last week, EPA marked down the value of a generic American from $8.04 million to $7.22 million. This is the value that EPA will use to judge “whether potentially lifesaving policy measures are really worth the cost.”
Normally, economists would say the value should rise over time, since Americans historically have become wealthier while incomes and productivity keep rising, meaning the lost income from a premature death should rise over time.
Now some have described nefarious motives to the EPA:
“By reducing the value of human life, which is really a devious way of cooking the books, the perceived benefits of cleaning up the air seem less,” said Frank O’Donnell of the District-based group Clean Air Watch. “That has the effect of weakening the case for pollution cleanup.”
True, the Bush administration hates reducing pollution, so this is a plausible argument.
But I’m inclined to go with a simpler explanation. The EPA is simply recognizing that the Bush administration has made all of Americans poorer. Bush has presided over
- the collapse of the dollar, which makes us relatively poorer than other countries.
- stagnating incomes for the vast majority of Americans.
- the collapse of the housing market, which is the single greatest source of wealth for most Americans
- soaring oil prices, which ensure a trade deficit of more than half $1 trillion a year as far as the eye can see, again ensuring a future decline in living standards.
- a soaring national debt, which will obviously makes current and future generations poorer.
- a concerted effort to block state, national, and international climate efforts, again ensuring a future decline in wealth and living standards.
- the embrace of torture as U.S. interrogation policy, which obviously devalues all of human life.
So kudos to the Bush administration for recognizing the true impact of their two terms in office. I hope this explanation will end confusion among independent economists:
One of the researchers whom the EPA cited said he was puzzled at the agency’s calculations on the value of a human life.
“Nobody’s ever lowered it,” said W. Kip Viscusi of Vanderbilt University. EPA came closest: In 2003, it tried to count senior citizens’ lives as worth less than those of other adults. After a loud outcry from seniors, the agency backed off.
Viscusi said most researchers believe the value should generally be going up, as Americans have become wealthier and more willing to spend money to avoid risks.
Sure, in Viscusi’s ivory tower, Americans have become wealthier. But that’s probably because his chauffeur fills up the gas tank. Bush has certainly made the rest of us feel worth less.