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Are Poor People Worth Less Than Rich People? Disaggregating the Value of Statistical Lives

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  • Sunstein, Cass R.
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    Abstract

    Each government agency uses a uniform figure to measure the value of a statistical life. This is a serious mistake. The very theory that underlies current practice calls for far more individuation of the relevant values. According to that theory, the value of statistical lives should vary across risks. More controversially, the value of a statistical life should vary across individuals -- even or especially if the result would be to produce a lower number for some people than for others. One practical implication is that a higher value should be given to programs that reduce cancer risks. Should government use a higher VSL for programs that disproportionately benefit the wealthy -- and a lower VSL for programs that disproportionately benefit the poor? A serious complication here is that sometimes the beneficiaries of regulation pay only a fraction or even none of its cost; when this is so, the appropriate VSL for poor people might be higher, on distributional grounds, than market evidence suggests. An understanding of this point has implications for foundational issues about government regulation, including valuation of persons in poor and wealthy nations. Also of interest from the Joint Center: Is Granny Worth $2.3 Million or $6.1 Million' Robert W. Hahn and Scott Wallsten

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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by Regulation2point0 in its series Working paper with number 193.

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    Date of creation: Jan 2004
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    Handle: RePEc:reg:wpaper:193

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    Web page: http://regulation2point0.org/

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    Cited by:
    1. Anna Alberini & Aline Chiabai, 2006. "Urban Environmental Health and Sensitive Populations: How Much Are the Italians Willing to Pay to Reduce Their Risks?," ERSA conference papers ersa06p293, European Regional Science Association.
    2. Jens Ludwig & Douglas L. Miller, 2005. "Does Head Start Improve Children's Life Chances? Evidence from a Regression Discontinuity Design," NBER Working Papers 11702, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Juan José Ganuza & Fernando Gómez, 2003. "Optimal negligence rule under limited liability," Economics Working Papers 759, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised May 2004.
    4. Evans, Mary F. & Smith, V. Kerry, 2006. "Do we really understand the age-VSL relationship?," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 28(3), pages 242-261, August.
    5. Mary Evans & V. Kerry Smith, 2008. "Complementarity and the Measurement of Individual Risk Tradeoffs: Accounting for Quantity and Quality of Life Effects," Environmental & Resource Economics, European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 41(3), pages 381-400, November.
    6. Jens Ludwig & Dave E. Marcotte, 2005. "Anti-depressants, suicide, and drug regulation," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 24(2), pages 249-272.
    7. Thomas J. Kniesner & W. Kip Viscusi, 2005. "Value of a Statistical Life: Relative Position vs. Relative Age," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 142-146, May.
    8. Doug Miller & Jens Ludwig, 2005. "Does Head Start Improve Children’s Life Chances? Evidence from a Regression Discontinuity Design," Working Papers 534, University of California, Davis, Department of Economics.

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