lunes, 27 de junio de 2011
The value of a human life. Supply and Demand?
What is the value of a human life? Many will reply: it is invaluable.
Sounds good, but not true... Our planet is invaluable and yet we seem to be in the process of putting a value on everything in it, call it ecosystem services and the internalization of externalities. I just payed 500 USD to spend one hour observing Gorillas, basically I considered that I was willing to pay 500 USD not only to see the Gorillas but to make sure that they are not exterminated by the needs of the villagers surrounding the park. We are analyzing the value of animals, plants and full ecosystems to decide if it is worth it to save them from extinction/degradation or not. We are discounting their future value to decide if we should just consume them today or tomorrow. The methods we are using to evaluate these "ecosystem services" to internalize their social value in markets can also be used to evaluate the value of human life.
The answer to my first question appears to be: it depends... In Somalia? What if you are a central american passing through northern mexico states? A congolese man in the rubber plantations of Belgian King Leopold II? An indigenous person in the Mexico of 1900? It seems the value of life is pretty low in these cases.
Sunday I had an experience that triggered this poor and scandalous reflexion. I was in a small Ugandan town, three muzungus hiking in the area. We stopped to wait for the rest of the crew and some young Ugandans with a soccer ball started throwing it at us. We rapidly formed a circle and began comparing soccer skills between Ugandans and Americans (some people think Obama is the president of the whole American continent and Mexico is sometimes part of the US for practical purposes). Things were actually going pretty well. In two seconds everything changed, a small child no more than three years old was crossing the street and uphill a boda (motorcycle) was coming down full speed. Some were screaming at the driver to stop, others at the child, some tried to get him, others just were completely paralyzed just expecting the impact ad its definitive consequences. There was nothing to do, I only had time to realize there was going to be blood spilled and that the happy day was over. But there was divine intervention, the driver did not stop, didn't even slow down, he moved his bike a little bit at the last second. This 10 mm move was enough so that the small child was not hit by the motorcycle but only by the knee of the driver. He did fly one meter and turned around from the strength of the impact, but he seemed to be all right. The kid started crying, his mother came, picked him from the ground and took him home. The motorbike driver stopped 100 meters away, turned his head and drove as fas as he could. The kid to my left hit the soccer ball and we resumed playing... Just like that... I guess you get over accidents that almost happened than those did happen.
My stomach was in shambles, I just couldn't believe how close I had been to get spilled with this little kid blood. Later that day I learned that this type of accidents do happen often, when the driver does kill or severely hurts someone, he better run as fast as he can. If the community catches him, they will beat him to death. An eye for an eye... In tis case it seems that the value of a human life is another human life.
This experience has truly left a mark in me, I just can't stop thinking about it. One of my colleagues at work told me that his mother did not gave him a name until he was five years old (the highest vulnerability period for a child). In a country where 138 children of 1000 die before their fifth birthday then it makes a little sense. Another shocking experience is the answer to the typical question "How many sibling do you have?" which often comes in the form of "Alive or dead?" or "My mother had 8 of us but only 5 remain". One of the taxi drivers I hire to move around the city told me he has 20 siblings... All from the same mother! This woman has to be an extraordinary character, after numbers were added, multiplied, I came to the conclusion that she had to spend 27 years producing (this is like ford factory production line) babies, she spent 10.5 years pregnant. Why do people have such a number of children? It makes no sense at all. I get the different hypothesis of why some countries only have two children per couple and others eight. But 20? That is some intensity. Is it because they value life too much? Is it because of fear to their husbands? Is it because children serve as a retirement fund in poor countries? Is it because having many children is a sign of wealth and status? I do not know.
A couple of days ago, we talked to a woman that told us that she actually preferred being pregnant because without her period she could be more efficient in the field. When it came every month it was a problem since work was much harder when women have no access to sanitary pads or any other feminine hygiene product due to prices. I dod not buy her story 100% but she had a point.
So solving the worlds problems include:
1- Washing machines for everyone.
2- Reduce fertility rates to the stable level
3- Produce a low cost alternative to deal with women's period
So how much is a life worth? Try to quote how much you are worth if you sold your organs to people that need them. That is a lot. Think of the indebted father who commits suicide so that his life insurance allow his children to move on with their lives.