The Value of Human Life

This article originally appeared in The Global Voice, Issue 36, February 2007. You can read the whole edition here.

My tires were low and I had to get some air. (Now you have to know I’m a cheapskate and I actually search online for the nearest gas station that hosts the most economical price for the gallon.) Anyway, as I pulled up to the air compressor I saw what used to be ‘free’ was now priced at .75 cents? I pulled out of that station to cross the street, hoping to pay a quarter for air, only to find a competitive price of .75 cents! Every gas station - .75 cents!

Air is a resource that is available in bulk. It’s everywhere! It’s not necessarily anything that anyone is worried about us running out of. However, when it is harnessed through technology and made applicable to seeming necessities, I guess its value in 2-minute increments is .75 cents?!

It seems we live in a world where we attach value to everything by its dollar price.

  • Cell phone airtime is valued at .05 cents a minute.

  • Gas is valued at $2.50 a gallon.

  • A ‘good’ cup of coffee is valued at $4.

  • A 90-minute movie is valued at $10.

  • A decent dinner for two in a dimly lit room prepared and served by others is valued at $35.

  • Access to 50 different television channels for a month is valued at $50.

  • Monthly membership to “Weight Watchers” to reduce calorie intake is valued at $100.

  • Green fees on Pebble Beach for 18 holes of golf are valued at $150.

  • Non nose-bleed concert tickets for recent Madonna tour are valued at $250.

  • Single night accommodations for a family of four at Disney World are valued at $500.

  • A 48-month auto loan for a Lexus SUV is valued at $1,000 per month.

  • The average cost of a diamond engagement ring for an American woman is valued at $2,500.

  • A monthly mortgage on a 2,000 sq. ft. home in the Silicon Valley is valued at $10,000.

  • An average college education for the American student is valued at $50,000 per degree.

  • Howard Stern is valued at $75,000 per hour.

  • Oprah Winfrey is valued at $150,000,000 per year.

  • William Gates III (Bill Gates/Microsoft) is valued at $53,000,000,000 (net worth).

It seems we live in a world where we attach value to everyone by his or her dollar price.

  • The American police officer who maintains peace is valued at $50,000 per year.

  • Teachers in the United States who educate our children are valued at $40,000 per year.

  • Plumbers who maintain our public sanitation and water systems are valued at $30,000 per year.

  • The American farmer who feeds the nation is valued at $25,000 per year.

  • The average elderly American who contributed to society for at least 40 years and is unable to work like they used to is valued at $10,000 per year by Social Security.

  • 3 billion people in the developing world are valued at less than $750 per year.

  • The immigrant worker in the US without legal papers to labor is valued at $3 per hour.

  • Providing a ‘good’ education for a Sudanese child is valued at $2.30 per term.

  • The life of a child from India is valued at $0.50 cents per day when supported through a charitable organization.

  • The Filipino sweat shop worker is valued at $0.25 cents a day for 12 hours labor to produce the clothes we wear.

  • Moldova, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Fiji, Swaziland, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Rwanda, Togo, Malawi, Mongolia, Mauritania, Lesotho, Central African Republic, Suriname, Sierra Leone, Belize, Cape Verde, Eritrea, Antigua and Barbuda, Bhutan, St. Lucia, Burundi, Maldives, Guyana, Djibouti, Seychelles, Libera, Grenada, the Gambia, St. Kitts and Nevis, Comoros, Samoa, Vanuatu, Timor-Leste, Guinea-Bissau, Solomon Islands, Dominica, Tonga, Sao Tome, and Principe and Kiribati are all countries populated by real people whose combined value (Gross Domestic Product) is less than the net worth of Bill Gates! And sadly, they were possibly valued at less than the time most of you had to even read through the previous list of them?

There are over 6 billion people in the world, and like air, we are not running short on people. However, also like air, it seems that we don’t find value in a human until we are able to harness their power in order to produce technology applicable to seeming necessities.

I guess we can’t figure out what to do with the 2.5 million people who are dying in the wilderness of the Sudan. I guess that the 1 million people who died in the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 weren’t of value to us either — in our ‘national interest.’

On the other hand, the 3.7 million people who’ve died as a result of the ‘civil wars’ in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia and Sierra Leone have been worth our diamonds. It also seems that the sex trafficking of 3 million women and children from South East Asia is worth about $7 billion dollars a year.

Given humanity’s current ability to overlook the value of human life and even worse, put a price on it, I wonder if it’s the people of Iraq that are worth the price of both Iraqi and American peoples who have lost their lives and loved ones in that war?

Can you believe that air is .75 cents!

Genesis 1:27-28 And God created man in His own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. And God blessed them…