from the world's big
5 ways of valuing a human being
Ever wondered how much you're worth?
- Most of us like to think the value of a life is priceless, but numerous institutions have put a price on human beings in the past.
- These estimates vary depending on the scope.
- From just $90 to nearly $10 million, how much is a human being worth?
How much are you worth? Maybe the first thing to come to mind is what's left over after you add up all of your assets and subtract all your debts, but most of us would balk at the idea that that's our actual value. What about the value of your perspicacity, your intelligence, your sense of humor?
How do you put a price on how important you are to the people who love you in your life, or what potential contributions you may make to society over the course of your life? Depending on your scope, calculating the value of a human life can come up with some wildly different estimates. Here are some of the prices that we've put on ourselves.
According to Immanuel Kant, you can't put a price on human dignity. Imagge source: Wikimedia Commons
This is almost certainly the default and preferred position of most human beings — that their life, and by extension all others, is so valuable that putting a price tag on it is not a useful concept.
The German philosopher Immanuel Kant argued that "everything has either a price or a dignity. Whatever has a price can be replaced by something else as its equivalent; on the other hand, whatever is above all price, and therefore admits of no equivalent, has a dignity." For Kant, humanity and human rationality had dignity. They are irreplaceable, and so cannot be valued in price.
Kant was best known for his moral philosophy, but philosophy often fails to persist when applied to the real world. Human dignity may not have a price, but various institutions have tried to price it anyways.
2. About $10 million
When determining policies, institutions can't make evidence-based judgements by assigning human life an infinite value. Instead, they use a concept called the "value of a statistical life." This is different than the value of an actual life, which may very well be priceless. The value of a statistical life is easiest to understand through an example.
Say 100,000 people have a disease that has a 1/100,000 chance of killing them in a year. Suppose that they were each willing to pay $100 for a medication that would protect them from this 1 in 100,000 chance. If they all bought the medication, then we would expect to see one fewer death in that group of 100,000 — a statistical life saved. In this circumstance, the value of a statistical life would be $10 million: $100 for the medication × 100,000 people = $10 million = 1 statistical life. In essence, the value of a statistical life is a way of putting a price on a single life by measuring how much people are willing to pay for small reductions in their risk of mortality.
Government agencies use this method to make policy decisions, and they come up with varying figures. One of the highest, however, is the figure the EPA has come up with: coincidentally, also just about $10 million. Specifically, the EPA uses $7.4 million in 2006 dollars and then adjusts for inflation, which works out to be $9.4 million in 2019; figures can vary for a given project or program.
Photograph of an enslaved family taken in 1862.
This number represents the average price of a slave when the South seceded from the Union adjusted to today's prices. At that time, a slave cost on average $800 (in 1860 dollars). However, the price could vary considerably: 25-year-old males were valued the most, but this could change depending on the slave's height, health, skills, vices, history of escape attempts, and so on.
If we simply adjusted that $800 price for inflation, we'd get about $25,000, but adjusting for inflation on these timescales isn't entirely accurate. Why? Because even economic historians use different measures and indexes depending on the context of the question. Consumer behavior was very different in the 1800, so the value of a dollar was commensurately different. That is, the value of a dollar may have inflated considerably, but the perceived value of a specific good or service even more so.
We know what $25,000 gets us today, but hardly any of those things were available or priced similarly in the 1800s. So, depending on the method used, the value of a slave in the 19th century can vary considerably — perhaps as high to what we modernly consider $150,000. One commonly cited figure, however, is that a slave cost $40,000 in today's dollars.
Tragically, slavery has persisted, and the practice has become even more heartless. Today, the global average cost of a slave is just $90, according to Kevin Bales of the University of Nottingham and the Free the Slaves NGO. There are a few possible explanations for this dramatic drop in price. First, the supply of slaves is greater than it ever has been before. It's far easier to acquire slaves than it was a couple of centuries ago. In addition, slaves in the early U.S. were treated as long-term investments; today, slave owners are more likely to abandon or kill injured or sick slaves rather than pay for medical treatment.
5. A little less than $1,000
Let's say you had an incredible machine that could instantly break up any molecules into their constituent elements, and, since you are an extremely morbid person with more curiosity than benevolence, you dump a human body into this device. Ninety-nine percent of the body is made up of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, calcium, and phosphorus, so we'll see what these elements are worth.
Assuming you chucked a 70 kg (150 lb) human body into your machine, you would get 43 kg of oxygen, 16 kg of carbon, 7 kg of hydrogen, 1.8 kg of nitrogen, 1 kg of calcium, and 0.78 kg of phosphorus. Based off of this table, you could then sell these materials for about $989.20: $129 for the oxygen, $384 for the carbon, $35 for the hydrogen, $7.2 for the nitrogen, $200 for the calcium, and $234 for the phosphorus.
Of course, this is really just some back-of-the-napkin math. Prices vary depending on the market, and there's a whole bunch of other elements in your body that could contribute, like gold and potassium, that are in small quantities but could still be very valuable. The point of this exercise is, however, that the body by itself isn't worth very much.
Educators and administrators must build new supports for faculty and student success in a world where the classroom might become virtual in the blink of an eye.
- If you or someone you know is attending school remotely, you are more than likely learning through emergency remote instruction, which is not the same as online learning, write Rich DeMillo and Steve Harmon.
- Education institutions must properly define and understand the difference between a course that is designed from inception to be taught in an online format and a course that has been rapidly converted to be offered to remote students.
- In a future involving more online instruction than any of us ever imagined, it will be crucial to meticulously design factors like learner navigation, interactive recordings, feedback loops, exams and office hours in order to maximize learning potential within the virtual environment.
A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.
- A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
- Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
- The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
Neil deGrasse Tyson wants to go ice fishing on Europa<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="GLGsRX7e" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4790eb8f0515e036b24c4195299df28"> <div id="botr_GLGsRX7e_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/GLGsRX7e-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Water Vapor Above Europa’s Surface Deteced for First Time<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9c4abc8473e1b89170cc8941beeb1f2d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/WQ-E1lnSOzc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
A study finds people are more influenced by what the other party says than their own. What gives?
- A new study has found evidence suggesting that conservative climate skepticism is driven by reactions to liberal support for science.
- This was determined both by comparing polling data to records of cues given by leaders, and through a survey.
- The findings could lead to new methods of influencing public opinion.
Mind the cues<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="CabkeAzx" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="169377c88f392a86f6c42180b74820a5"> <div id="botr_CabkeAzx_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/CabkeAzx-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/CabkeAzx-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/CabkeAzx-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The gulf in accepting the science behind climate change also exists among party elites. It is well known to any American who is attentive to the news, as party leaders are often more than willing to discuss their take to journalists.</p><p>Using polling data going back to the 1980s, the researchers were able to create a chart showing the aggregate amount of climate skepticism among the general population. A similar diagram showing the Republicans' skepticism dating back to 2001 was sourced from a previous, similar study. It was shown to be highly correlated with the one produced for this study.</p><p>These charts were compared with media content from prominent newspapers that included implicit or explicit stances on climate change by significant political figures. These thousands of articles were classified by using key terms and which major political figures were quoted or referenced. The researchers compared the number of cues over time to measured skepticism and looked for "<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Granger_causality" target="_blank">Granger causality</a>," the tendency for one variable to predict the future value of another variable.</p><p>The model shows evidence of both in and out-group cue effects, though the repulsion to out-group cues was much more evident. A significant increase in Democratic cues in favor of climate science was followed by a rise in skepticism among Republican voters. Importantly, the cues lead, rather than follow opinion, and do so with consistency. Changes in view did not predict changes in the number or direction of cues. </p><p>The researchers also surveyed nearly 3000 adults to demonstrate the concept. This involved showing them a statement on the scientific consensus around climate change and a cue from either a Republican or a Democrat. This test confirmed the previous observation and provided further support for the notion that signals from leaders cause an increase in skepticism among some respondents.</p><p>Before my left-leaning and Democratic readers get too smug, this research references previous studies demonstrating a similar effect in the lead up to the Iraq War. However, in that case, the Democratic Party elites' mixed messages were countered by a Republican Party united behind the idea of invasion. The effect on the Democratic party rank and file was similar to that observed in this case. </p><p>Several other studies have examined effects similar to this for other issues. This study's importance is its focus on out-group cues and the effort placed into demonstrating a causal relationship between the statements of certain party elites and public opinion. Most previous studies focused purely on in-group cues or failed to differentiate between the two. </p>
Can thinking about the past really help us create a better present and future?
- There are two types of counterfactual thinking: upward and downward.
- Both upward and downward counterfactual thinking can be positive impacts on your current outlook - however, upward counterfactual thinking has been linked with depression.
- While counterfactual thinking is a very normal and natural process, experts suggest the best course is to focus on the present and future and allow counterfactual thinking to act as a motivator when possible.
“Upward” versus “downward” counterfactual thinking<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ1NDYxOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDM2MDY2OX0.njWs1qrV1vDBxU1V75tUduUW4TjJvEHglDWsK8ZF2l4/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C556%2C0%2C209&height=700" id="a15fa" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="98314d4d2b256ed08f42d369fe4ae080" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="concept of man thinking about the past one line drawing counterfactual thinking" />
What are upward and downward counterfactual thinking?
Image by one line man on Shutterstock<p><strong>What is upward counterfactual thinking?</strong></p><p>Upward counterfactual thinking happens when we look at a scenario and ask ourselves "what if" in terms of how our life could have turned out better. </p><p>Examples of upward counterfactual thinking are: </p><ul><li><em>"I wish I had taken that other job instead of this one 10 years ago - my life would be so much better if I had." </em></li><li><em>"I wish I would have gotten the part in that high school play, maybe I could have gotten into a theatre school and became an actor…"</em> </li></ul><p>Both of these examples have the ideology that if you had made different choices, your life right now would be improved. </p><p><strong>What is downward counterfactual thinking?</strong></p><p>Downward counterfactual thinking is, naturally, the opposite of upward counterfactual thinking in that we think about how things could have been worse if other decisions had been made. </p><p>Examples of downward counterfactual thinking are: </p><ul><li><em>"I'm so thankful I studied secondary education in university instead of psychology like I had originally planned - I love teaching high school kids and I never would have gotten to do that…" </em></li><li><em>"I'm so happy I left David when I got the chance, I can't imagine still being in an unhappy marriage with someone who doesn't support me…"</em> </li></ul><p>In these examples, we see the idea that if you had made different choices your life would not be as good as it is right now. </p>
How counterfactual thinking can impact your life<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ1NDYxNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNjI2MDQxOX0.DIVQ-Yk0d6yE3tc743MH1Fz2pOg1TGHLmhp8dPp9UdY/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=700" id="522d7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="da7df6ad916b043e3610223900d0f8df" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="man thinking what if written on chalkboard" />
How do upward and downward counterfactual thinking impact your life?
Photo by Brasil Creativo on Shutterstock<p>While many people don't see the point in "what if" scenarios, various studies have found that downward counterfactual thinking can be more associated with psychological health compared with upward counterfactual thinking. Not only that, but research has also shown upward counterfactual thinking can be linked with current and future depression.</p> <p><strong>Downward counterfactual thinking tends to be more associated with psychological health </strong></p><p>According to a <a href="http://journal.sjdm.org/jdm06136.pdf" target="_blank">2000 study</a>, downward counterfactual thinking can be linked with better psychological health compared to upward counterfactual thinking. More importantly, in cases where downward counterfactual thinking did lead to negative feelings, those feelings acted as something of a motivator for people to take productive actions to better their current situation. </p> <p><strong>Upward counterfactual thinking tends to be more associated with depression </strong></p><p><a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272735816301714#:~:text=An%20upward%20counterfactual%20(as%20opposed,Markman%20and%20McMullen%2C%202003)." target="_blank">According to a 2017 study</a> that pooled a sample of over 13,000 respondents, thoughts about "better outcomes" and regret (upward counterfactual thinking) were associated with current and future depression. </p> <p><strong>Downward counterfactual thinking can actually improve your relationships and is more often engaged in by women than men.</strong></p><p>In a <a href="https://dspace.sunyconnect.suny.edu/bitstream/handle/1951/67589/Studer_Thesis.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank">2016 research paper submitted</a> to the Department of Psychology at the State University of New York at New Paltz, downward counterfactual thinking in regards to romantic relationships was associated with relatively positive relationship outcomes. Interestingly, women were more likely than men to engage in downward counterfactual thinking about their romantic life. </p> <p><strong>Upward counterfactual thinking can have some benefits in certain scenarios. </strong></p><p>When we look back after a failed test and think "I wish I would have studied more" - this motivates us to study harder the next time a test comes up. In this way, upward counterfactual thinking (or the negative version of "what if") can actually benefit us. </p> <p><strong>This can be difficult, though, because much of the time upward counterfactual thinking is more associated with a pessimistic outlook that can be unmotivating. </strong></p> <p>Thinking in the past tense can be motivational (and even healthy) at times, but the best thing to do is look forward. </p><p>While counterfactual thinking as a whole can be used to motivate us to make better choices or appreciate where we are in life, <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/darwins-subterranean-world/201809/the-psychology-what-if" target="_blank">this Psychology Today</a> article suggests that we should come up with ways to move on and focus on the present and the future instead of the past. Using counterfactual thinking as a motivational tool can be very helpful if we don't get stuck in the "what if" mindset that tends to pull us out of the present and back into the past, where things will always remain the same. </p>