ASK Musings

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April 2024



The Price of Life by Jenny Klee

Written by , Posted in Reviews

4 Stars

Best for:
Those interested in exploring not just the philosophical questions about ‘value,’ ‘worth,’ and ‘price,’ but those contemplating how to – and if we should – put a price on a life.

In a nutshell:
Journalist Kleeman investigates the different prices we put on lives, from hiring a hit man to covering medications to paying ransom to bomber jets.

Worth quoting:
“It is possible to not be a slave but still be exploited: this £23 pedicure has taken seventy-five minutes. Does £23 adequately cover her time, and the manager’s time, plus the materials, the London rent, the energy bills?”

“This is the problem with removing emotion and duty from giving: it can be hijacked by amoral sociopaths who believe the ends justify the means.”

Why I chose it:
Was just browsing at a bookstore and it jumped out at me. A friend and I had just been talking about discussions we’d had during university about the ‘value’ of life and different ways costs are assigned, so it seemed like a good fit.

This topic has fascinated me since I started studying philosophy years ago (oooof, that was well over a decade ago now. Yikes). And this is an excellent overview of some of the more interesting and challenging ideas related to how we value human life, and the price we put on it.

Some of the chapters are interesting from a sort of ‘oh that’s wild’ perspective – finding out how much people pay to have someone they know murdered, or how the price for a hostage is worked out. But other chapters I found to be interesting and thought provoking for different reasons. The chapter on the F-35 bomber, and the absurd costs associated with war, was especially relevant considering those bombers are currently destroying homes and killing civilians in Gaza.

There were two different chapters that looked specifically at health care issues. One covered a concept I studied a bit previously – QALYs also know as quality-adjusted life years, which the UK uses to determine whether to cover the cost of certain medical treatments. There are limited resources, and other than a lottery, how can one figure out how to distribute those resources without something that can be applied to every equitably? Of course, the question is … is it equitable?

The other focused on the cost of the COVID lockdowns, and whether the lives saved at the time were worth the costs to lives in other ways (e.g. poverty, domestic violence) when the economy was shut. I found that chapter challenging in some ways, because I do still think that the lockdowns made sense. But this was the only chapter where I felt that the author left something out of the equation – the cost not just of dying of COVID, but of long COVID. She only explored the death rates, and didn’t discuss the mass disabling event that COVID is, and how many people will not be able to live the lives they would have otherwise if they hadn’t been infected It’s not the same as a death, but it’s not nothing.

And then there are the chapters that look at things like slavery and exploitation – and the willingness so many of us have to overlook why the things we like to use might be cheaper than the true cost, and what that means for the people providing those goods and services. Plus the chapter that looks at charity, and the cold calculations some use to determine whether it makes sense to fund certain charitable endeavors.

If the topic sounds interesting to you, I think you’ll enjoy this book. And even if these aren’t things you’ve ever thought of, I think you might still enjoy this book.

What’s next for this book:
Going on the shelf and recommending to others.

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