Pricing Lives: Guideposts for a Safer Society

Princeton University Press
Free sample

How society’s undervaluing of life puts all of us at risk—and the groundbreaking economic measure that can fix it

Like it or not, sometimes we need to put a monetary value on people's lives. In the past, government agencies used the financial "cost of death" to monetize the mortality risks of regulatory policies, but this method vastly undervalued life. Pricing Lives tells the story of how the government came to adopt an altogether different approach--the value of a statistical life, or VSL—and persuasively shows how its more widespread use could create a safer and more equitable society for everyone.

In the 1980s, W. Kip Viscusi used the method to demonstrate that the benefits of requiring businesses to label hazardous chemicals immensely outweighed the costs. VSL is the risk-reward trade-off that people make about their health when considering risky job choices. With it, Viscusi calculated how much more money workers would demand to take on hazardous jobs, boosting calculated benefits by an order of magnitude. His current estimate of the value of a statistical life is $10 million. In this book, Viscusi provides a comprehensive look at all aspects of economic and policy efforts to price lives, including controversial topics such as whether older people's lives are worth less and richer people's lives are worth more. He explains why corporations need to abandon the misguided cost-of-death approach, how the courts can profit from increased application of VSL in assessing liability and setting damages, and how other countries consistently undervalue risks to life.

Pricing Lives proposes sensible economic guideposts to foster more protective policies and greater levels of safety in the United States and throughout the world.

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About the author

W. Kip Viscusi is the University Distinguished Professor of Law, Economics, and Management at Vanderbilt University. His many books include Economics of Regulation and Antitrust and Fatal Tradeoffs: Public and Private Responsibilities for Risk.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
May 15, 2018
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Pages
296
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ISBN
9781400889587
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Business Law
Business & Economics / General
Business & Economics / Government & Business
Business & Economics / Insurance / Risk Assessment & Management
Law / General
Mathematics / Game Theory
Technology & Engineering / Industrial Health & Safety
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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The 1998 out-of-court settlements of litigation by the states against the cigarette industry totaled $243 billion, making it the largest payoff ever in our civil justice system. Two key questions drove the lawsuits and the attendant settlement: Do smokers understand the risks of smoking? And does smoking impose net financial costs on the states?

With Smoke-Filled Rooms,W. Kip Viscusi provides unexpected answers to these questions, drawing on an impressive range of data on several topics central to the smoking policy debate. Based on surveys of smokers in the United States and Spain, for instance, he demonstrates that smokers actually overestimate the dangers of smoking, indicating that they are well aware of the risks involved in their choice to smoke. And while smoking does increase medical costs to the states, Viscusi finds that these costs are more than financially balanced by the premature mortality of smokers, which reduces their demands on state pension and health programs, so that, on average, smoking either pays for itself or generates revenues for the states.

Viscusi's eye-opening assessment of the tobacco lawsuits also includes policy recommendations that could frame these debates in a more productive way, such as his suggestion that the FDA should develop a rating system for cigarettes and other tobacco products based on their relative safety, thus providing an incentive for tobacco manufacturers to compete among themselves to produce safer cigarettes. Viscusi's hard look at the facts of smoking and its costs runs against conventional thinking. But it is also necessary for an informed and realistic debate about the legal, financial, and social consequences of the tobacco lawsuits.

People making $50,000 or more pay .08 percent of their income in cigarette taxes, but people with incomes of less than $10,000 pay 1.62 percenttwenty times as much. The maintenance crew at the Capitol will bear more of the "sin tax" levied on cigarettes than will members of Congress who voted to boost it.

Cigarettes are not a financial drain to the U.S. In fact, they are self-financing, as a consequence of smokers' premature mortality.

The general public estimates that 47 out of 100 smokers will die from lung cancer because they smoke. Smokers believe that 40 out of 100 will die of the disease. Scientists estimate the actual number of 100 smokers who will die from lung cancer to be between 7 and 13.
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