What is the value of time 1

Thought experiment: The value of life


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The toughest job of his career began for Kenneth Feinberg on November 26, 2001. Years later, he described it as the "most gruesome experience". Everything has changed as a result, his work, his life, himself. "I think for the better," he writes, but he doesn't seem to be entirely sure.

After two planes flew into the World Trade Center and another plane into the Pentagon, the George W. Bush administration created a compensation fund that was unlike any previous one: one person should give the money to the families of the victims and to them Distribute the injured. Lots of money, little bureaucracy. At your own discretion and as quickly as possible.

Kenneth Feinberg was that person. For the next three years he met those affected every day. He spoke to the widows whose husbands had been in the fire brigade and died helping, to the relatives of stockbrokers whose everyday life in villas and private schools devoured a lot of money that no one now earned, and to the parents of people who were undocumented in New York, cleaning and waiting for the others, delivering mail. Until they died. In the moment of disaster, everyone was equal.



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Status and wealth do not matter to death. But Feinberg's job was to give value to each of the lost or injured lives, a concrete sum that he could pay out to the relatives. What was the life of a mother worth when she looked after her entire family? Does a man get less for his dead wife if they weren't married? Does it make a difference whether a person was last trying to enrich themselves or to help others? What do you get for an ex-husband, a second wife or the same-sex partner that nobody knew about? Feinberg immersed himself in the great tangle of human constellations, life plans and feelings - and then did his job.

He distributed more than 7 billion dollars to a total of 5,562 people: relatives received 250,000 dollars for an undocumented man. For a waiter $ 500,000. For one policeman 850,000, for another 1.2 million. For a stockbroker times $ 2 million, times $ 6 million. Looks brutal. When outraged widows asked Feinberg why their firefighters' lives were worth less than those of the stockbrokers, he told them that this is how America works. The congress had given him a single requirement: the income of the victims should be used as the basis for the compensation amounts. He later wrote in his book What is Life Worth? about his calculations and that he would pray that no one would ever have to play a role like him again.

Immanuel Kant said: "What has a value also has a price. But man has no value, he has dignity." Nobody wants to contradict that. And yet, if you take a look around, you will notice that everything has a price. Everyone's life is valued and offset - sometimes more, sometimes less subtle, but nonetheless uninterrupted. We live in a capitalist world. And we die in it too. We sell our work, our thoughts, our time. And get different amounts for it. Companies and authorities calculate compensation for pain and suffering, insurance premiums, security investments and treatment costs. Organs are traded on the black market, so are people.

The Basic Law states that all people are equal. But once you start arithmetic, it quickly becomes clear: Life doesn't just have one price. It has a great many. And its value changes depending on whether a biochemist looks at it, a human resources manager, a philosopher or an economist.

From a material point of view, our body, like everything in the world, is nothing more than a combination of chemical elements, in our case above all the cheap ones. At 70 kilograms of body mass, almost 69 kilograms are made up of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and calcium. The remaining elements of the periodic table only make up a good kilo. Even traces of gold, silver and lithium are part of our mixture. Nevertheless, the material value remains low. Oxygen, our main component, is available free of charge from the air, coal and water are also cheap, gold is in us for 0.7 cents, lithium for 2 cents.