The down-side of ‘evidence based policy’ is that people with agendas get to make up some pretty big numbers. [Insert fun activity here] costs the economy eleventy zillion dollars in lost productivity, increases the probability of being struck by lightning by 8.65789324 percent, not to mention those unsightly hairs growing on the palm of your hand.
Seriously though explaining to people that death is a private cost and not a public cost is quite difficult. An argument I heard last year was that ‘Treasury has estimated your life to be worth $2 million and if you die that money is gone’. I tried to explain that the value of life is to the person living that life. So if you die you don’t get to enjoy life – kind of obvious, I thought. In terms of other people, the dead are missed and mourned by their family and friends, but more or less people get over it and get on with their own lives.
Nick Cater has a great explanation of the social cost of death on the economy.
The impression one gets from reading The Social Costs of Smoking, however, is that the authors at the Centre for Health Advancement, Population Health Division don’t actually believe this nonsense themselves. As they point out in the small print: “A problem with this approach is that estimates of tobacco-attributable costs contain certain (sometimes very large) components that are not measured in conventional national account measurements of GDP.”
You can say that again. Conventional economists estimate that the current unemployment rate among the dead is running at 100 per cent.
While not wishing to pass judgment on their willingness to work, these dear departed souls are, to all intents and purposes, unemployable. They would be a drain on the economy if they were alive, but regretfully they are not.
They use no roads, do not require their dustbins to be emptied and, remarkably, given their fatal lifestyle choice, are not a burden on the health service. They may be missed by many, with a pain that cannot be quantified, but their tangible net contribution to the economy, earnings minus spending, is about zero.
This was particularly good:
Naturally, in the rapidly growing field of shockonomics, there is an accounting stream to get around that little hurdle: the cost of household labour. Had these folk not sneaked out in a box, and stayed around to help empty the ashtray and generally keep the place looking tidy, they could have earned $3.163bn in 2006-07, according to computer modelling.
And the bottom line:
Which means the minister, if she had thought about it, would have told the health bureaucrats she would not be supporting a pointless, irritating piece of legislation promoted by do-gooders addicted to the sound of the cracking whip.