Kenji L Logie

CISC 2820W

Harvard Justice Essay

Putting a Price Tag on Life
Jeremy Bentham’s version of Utilitarianism is defined by Michael Sandal in the following ways; “the maximization of the general welfare, the collective happiness, the overall balance of pleasure over pain, or in a phrase maximize utility.”1 Utilitarianism over time has been rebranded into the practical application known as Cost Benefit Analysis. Cost Benefit Analysis is quantified in Harvard Justice episode 2 as “[adding] up all the benefits of [a] policy and subtract all of the costs, the right thing to do is the one that maximizes the balance of happiness over suffering.”2 Before addressing the dilemma of cost benefit analysis both the morale issue being discussed and the writers view on the issue must be defined. It is the writer’s view that the issue being addressed in Harvard Justice, Episode 2, part 1, is simply can you place a dollar value on human life. On this moral issue the writer of the essay is of the opinion that placing a value on human life can be done, and has now become fundamental for objective and appropriate decisions to be made in a timely and effective manner. The application of cost benefit analysis by the Philips Morris and Ford cannot be seen as unethical since ethics is defined in the book Ethics in Information Technology as “society’s expectations of a person.”3 Society has established and used life insurance as a legitimate practice for over two centuries in the US, and its initial use dates as far back as

1

Sandel, Micheal. Harvard Justice. September 9, 2009. http://www.justiceharvard.org/2011/02/episodetwo/#watch (accessed October 20, 2011). 2 Ibid 3 Reynolds, George W. Ethics In Information Technology. Boston: Course Technology, 2010.

Kenji L Logie

CISC 2820W

Harvard Justice Essay

the Babylonian Empire.4 Life Insurance allows a person to arbitrarily assigning a value to human life, and those of others based on the amount they can actually afford, and not based on their actual worth or output to society. It is ironic that the proponents against utilitarianism argue a value cannot be assigned to life, yet as students most would be required to have a minimum level of health insurance, and a life insurance policy as collateral for their student loans. These students have the audacity to declare a life cannot be quantified to a dollar amount, when at some point in their life they have been happy to accept the benefits derived from society based on these exact calculations. The following questions should be asked instead of an outright ban on cost benefit analysis; is the action required a necessity, and as a statistician would ask will this course of action have a significant impact. In the practical application of Utilitarianism however, the theory that generates the greatest amount of animosity ironically is the idea that it is the purest form of equality. This has led to its classifications as; the tyranny of the majority, one man one vote or the simple majority. It is counterproductive to be against the assigning of a value to human life or too low a value if you are incapable of offering a practical alternative. Based on this assumption it can be concluded that those who would stand against cost benefit analysis would prefer to take the literal path of no actions; leading to no financial allocation to make a family whole again after injury or death, or allow a justifiable course of action by weighing practical objective, and alternatives.

4

Insure.com. Insure.com. September 1, 2007. http://www.insure.com/articles/homeinsuranceforum/history.html (accessed October 23, 2011).

Kenji L Logie

CISC 2820W

Harvard Justice Essay

It would however be unfair to lambast the advocates against cost benefit analysis without highlighting some of their justified arguments against placing a price on a human’s life. They are correct in Harvard Justice, episode two, to be disgusted with the manner in which the cost benefit analysis was presented by the Tobacco’s company to show; it is more beneficial for the government to allow smoking, in contrast to the cost of placing a ban on it.5 This particular use of cost benefit analysis violates a fundamental law coined by President Reagan, “Government’s first duty is to protect people not run their lives.”6 With this essential element violated it can be argued that the social contract between the people and their government has become null and void leaving society with the option to returning to a state of nature as described by John Locke.7 The second issue raised was the use of cost benefit analysis by the Ford Company to determine that it was less costly to pay for car repairs, car replacements, injuries and death instead of a complete recall of ford cars to install a shield to protect the car’s gas tanks. Ford’s mistake was clearly to rely solely on cost benefit analysis without considering their duty of care to their customers. As part of society they owe a duty of care to the members of the society, due to the benefits derived from operating in the society. Ford’s analysis also failed to consider the benefits gained from; being perceived as a good corporate citizen, customer loyalty gained by doing right, and most importantly they failed to account for the backlash and cost to the company if their memo’s to leave dangerous cars on the road was ever discovered. If these numbers were added to their present cost benefit analysis it most
5

Sandel, Micheal. Harvard Justice. September 9, 2009. http://www.justiceharvard.org/2011/02/episodetwo/#watch (accessed October 20, 2011). 6 Reagan, Ronald. goodreads. http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/show/187125 (accessed October 23, 2011).
7

James. James's Liberty file collection . http://jim.com/hobbes.htm (accessed October 23, 2011).

Kenji L Logie

CISC 2820W

Harvard Justice Essay

certainly would tip the scale in the favor of replacement. Ford unfortunately discovered this during the trial when it was revealed they knew about the potential for death and injury during rear end collisions. A prime example to show the benefits of being a responsible corporate citizen would be Tylenol, who during the 1982 issued a recall of an estimated 100 million dollars of their product, and a reward for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator who was placing cyanide in their capsules leading to numerous deaths.8 The Tylenol case showed that instead of running scared from the brand during a crisis, customers were actually reassured that the company had their needs and lives ahead of the bottom line, strengthening the companies brand unlike the ford case. Cost benefit analysis has allowed many debates and discussions affecting human lives to be expedited objectively. These discussions include building a hospital in a particular area over another or improving one school’s education facilities over another by; directly placing a dollar value on the impact of the action, and the value added to each human life that would be directly and indirectly impacted. Cost benefit analysis does not lead to unethical decisions but unethical people make these decisions by violating some combination of; laws, duty of care, or social contracts. In conclusion cost benefit analysis is a tool no different from any other economic tool or real life tool, and it isn’t the tool but the user that must be held responsible for an inappropriate use of it leading to a skewed or doctored result.

8

Rehak, Judith. New York Times. March 23, 2002. http://www.nytimes.com/2002/03/23/yourmoney/23iht-mjj_ed3_.html (accessed October 23, 2011).

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