The Value of a Whiner's Life

It was recently revealed that the EPA has discounted the value of an American life by nearly $1 million. While this move does not have an immediate, practical effect--your boss isn't going to cut your salary because of this--it does have a longer term effect of reducing the amount of environmental protections available to Americans.

According to the macabre calculations of the Bush-era EPA, if a new environmental regulation is going to save lives, then the value of these lives must be assessed against economic losses to businesses. A similar grim arithmetic was part of Fight Club; if recalling a dangerous part on a car will cost more than paying out damages to the likely number of victims, then car companies prefer to pay damages rather than prevent the injuries.

This mentality mirrors that of Sen. Phil Gramm, a McCain advisor, who also recently complained that Americans had become "a nation of whiners" suffering not from a real economic downturn, but only from a "mental recession."

What these ideas have in common is a rejection of the nature of reality. In Sen. Gramm's world, thinking positive has the effect of making the world positive. It's as if our thoughts have the ability to reshape reality. Among many religious people, of course, this thought is common; prayer to a diety for intercession is a common way of imagining that our mental energies have the ability to transform reality.

According to Sen. Gramm, if our economy is in a nosedive, this is only because so many people think negatively. For instance, if you are laid off, then it's your fault for bringing down your comapny with your negative energy. If your mortgage payment or rent goes up 25% in one month, the blame lies with you and your bad chi, not with your avaricious landlord.

Imagining that environmental regulations can be rewritten according to an arbitrary recalculation of the value of a human life is likewise a fantasy, a profound divorcement from reality. Environmental regulations getting you down? Just say that the people the regulations are protecting are worth less, and--poof!--the regulations evaporate.

There can be legitimate arguments about the economy and about the balance of regulation and business interests. But what these two items show is that America has lost its collective mind and entered into a dangerous zone of fantasy.


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