Is your life worth $9 million?

The Obama administration says the government should be spending more to prevent American deaths. But how much is too much?

The FDA, which is enforcing harsh new cigarette labeling, says it values each American life at $7.1 million.
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As the Obama administration revamps government regulations, it is quietly upping the value the government places on every human life, The New York Times reports. The Food and Drug Administration, proposing new warning labels on cigarette packages, declared last year that it was worth spending $7.1 million for every life saved — up from $5 million in 2008. The Environmental Protection Agency, justifying tighter air pollution restrictions, put the value of a life at $9.1 million, up from $6.8 million during the George W. Bush administration. Is every one of us really worth that much?

$9 million seems a bit steep: At $9 million, "the guy who wipes his snot on the walls of the subway train" is overvalued, says Dan Amira in New York. And "a blogger who comments on the news for a living" can't really be "worth the same as someone who actually betters the world in some way." I guess "it's really just a big crapshoot," though, and the Obama numbers are as reasonable as Bush's.

"The Obama administration values human life more than the Bush administration did"

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This is about politics, not people: We're told as children that "every human life is priceless," says Patrick Corcoran at Fair Warning, but the government isn't tweaking the numbers because it cherishes humanity. The administration just wants a rationale for tightening regulations.

"What's a life worth? Up to $9.1 million, U.S. agencies say"

Valuing life is a "fuzzy" business: The wide gap from administration to administration and from agency to agency does leave the government "open to charges of inconsistency and capriciousness," says Felix Salmon at Reuters. But "a little bit of fuzziness" is to be expected — putting a price tag on human life is hard. If anything, it's impressive that the administration has managed to stick to firm numbers in a process that is by its nature "highly political."

"The economics and politics of valuing life"

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