So, how do we value lives? And, having done so, who should gain access to something in short supply? Over in California they’re considering this and, given that they’re over in California, getting the answer wrong. The reason they’re doing so is because they’re ignoring the valuation that we’ve already done.
No, not you and me as individuals and not as an actual written down calculation. But as a society, the whole of us an all our myriad interactions, we have gone out and valued the lives of everyone within the society. It’s called the market and that’s what it does.
No, not some mysterious capitalist value, or exchange value (not that we allow such for human beings these days) or even just “market value”. Market exchange tells us what people do, on average, value and what value they apply, on average, to those things. That undocumented farm workers get $10 an hour and CEOs $1,000 is not some Aquinan true value, nor is it some moral turpitude that this is the way it turns out. Rather, that’s just the aggregate outcome of the interaction of hundreds of millions of people.
You know, all these values are human values, they’re values applied by humans and the value is the value that is emergent from what humans do.
At which point we have the answer to this problem being gnawed over in California:
As the first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine arrive in California, officials are facing intense pressure to prioritize vulnerable communities and promote equity and racial justice in the state’s distribution scheme.
Historically marginalized groups that have been ravaged by the virus and their advocates are pushing for urgent vaccine access, including farm workers in the Central Valley, undocumented laborers in the meatpacking industry, incarcerated people in overcrowded prisons and indigenous communities in remote regions.
In deciding who gets access to the limited supplies of the life-saving vaccine in the coming months, the most populous and diverse state in the country will have to answer thorny questions about what work is “essential” and how the government should address the pandemic’s systemic inequalities and historical injustices amid the virus’ deadliest surge yet.
“This is a hard question, because you’re essentially asking whose lives matter the most,” said Janel Bailey, co-director of the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, which has helped provide Covid testing in hard-hit Black neighborhoods.
We already have our answer. Rich folks are worth more than poor folks. So, rich folks get the vaccine first.
This being logical too – to somewhat soften the moral blow there. For what is our aim with the vaccine? To stop suffering the vast economic blow of the vaccine. Not losing $4 and $6 trillion a year from the US economy will do more for the lives – lifespans and also living standards – of the poor and everyone else than any other thing we could do. By our economic valuation already discussed who contributes most to that economic value? The higher paid of course. So, get them back to work and we have minimised the economic loss.
Just as with any other economic asset of course. Economic output, economic wealth itself, is maximised when economic assets move from lower to higher valued uses. Currently the vaccine doses are a scarce economic resource. Of course, in strict terms they always will be but the’re really scarce now. So, utility is maximised by vaccinating the higher paid – deploying those vaccine doses to their highest valued use.
True, all of that is rather bloodless and even calculating. But then that’s the answer that society has already provided us with. We do, by definition, already value the work of the lower paid less than we do that of the higher. So, something that enables work to resume should be distributed in that order.