Saturday, December 4, 2010

More applications of putting a cost on lives

My last post was about making difficult trade-offs of things we all find important; human lives, money, safety, education and freedom.

After posting it I've been surprised to how many different stances can be boiled down by someones refusal to make one of those trade-offs. They assume their current level of something we all value is optimal, and will not accept anything to compromise it just a little. It's not that we don't value the things they seek to preserve, it's that we value the things we would gain even more.

Another way of looking at this is the Nirvana Fallacy, where only solutions with no trade-offs will be accepted, even if it means suffering from horrible preventable harm. Here are some more examples:

Everyone wants to keep their children from dying from a direct medical intervention, but some of them care so much that they are unwilling to expose their children to a tiny amount of risk. Vaccines protect children from larger, likelier, deadlier threats.

Most people want our military to be as effective as possible, but some believe allowing gays to serve openly could lower that effectiveness. They are unwilling to risk any changes in effectiveness, even if we will gain civil rights as a result.

Nobody wants the poor to be stuck collecting unemployment benefits or to drive taxes up, but some people think that risk is worth it to keep families from starving.


No one wants anyone to suffer because they lost their job as a result of the recession, but how much is that worth compared to a guaranteed raise in taxes and disincentive to look for work which harms everyone?

As I said last time, "Imagine spending all your time collecting crosses, stakes and holy water only to be mutilated by werewolves." All threats are threats, and rankings should not be absolute and uncompromising.

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