Save the children

I read this article on NICE a little while ago.  What jumped out at me was just how low a value the Brits place on human life:  about $22,750 for every six months of life.  That implies a total value on human life of under $3 million, which is less than half of what American regulators derived from analyzing how much more people must be paid to take on risky jobs.  And people got mad at them for placing the figure too low.  That's also how, at least in theory, we calculate the losses in things like wrongful death lawsuits.

Even in PPP terms, British GDP is about 75% of America's, not half.  Why do they value their lives so much lower?

Well, one possibility is that they don't--when assessing environmental threats, which is where that cost-per-life-saved was developed for the US.  But this makes no rational sense; a life saved by environmental regulation is no more alive than a life saved by surgery.  The difference is, of course, that in one case, the government actually has to spend money, while in the other, the government is simply halting economic activity, or forcing a private actor to spend money.  While economically, these are no different, they seem very distinctive indeed to people with tax budgets.

Winterspeak noticed an even uglier irrationality:

But this makes no sense:
Britain's National Health Service provides 95 percent of the nation's care from an annual budget, so paying for costly treatments means less money for, say, sick children. Before NICE, hospitals and clinics often came to different decisions about which drugs to buy, creating geographic disparities in care that led to outrage. (Such disparities are common in the United States, even for federal Medicare patients.)
Sick children provide excellent return on investment for treatments. A positive intervention in a child can yield years of benefits. Why don't children always win?
After consulting a citizens group, the institute decided that the nation should spend the same amount saving or improving the life of a 75-year-old smoker as it would a 5-year-old.
Ah, that makes sense. It is also highly informative about the value of consulting citizens' groups.

So, so far the salutory effects of this laudatory public works project are to undervalue all human life, but especially that of small children, because the seniors kicked up a fuss.  The moral logic of this is appalling.  In these liberated days, "women and children first" has sensibly changed to "children first", but I hadn't realized that we'd gotten so advanced that we'd abandoned even that elementary moral calculus.  I've never seen it made so starkly clear that the job of any senior's lobby is to cannibalize the future in order to pay for their past or present.