Accuracy in Media

Teen Vogue introduces us to the concept of necropolitics, the horrifying idea that some lives are worth more than others. This is, they insist, because capitalism is such a vile distortion of the true human spirit. As we might expect from people trained to tell us what is this season’s must-have nail polish, they’ve managed to get the entire concept the wrong way around.

That some lives are worth different amounts from some others is simply the way that we humans act, it’s something built into the basics of the species. The only influence capitalism has, as opposed to any other form of economic structure, is that it raises the value applied to each life.

The error is here: “In other words, necropolitics is a framework that illuminates how governments assign differential value to human life.” That is all being ascribed to capitalism.

The error being that governments don’t assign anything. Nor does anyone else, not the class of capitalists, not the system of capitalism. The different values of life are observed.

We all know that certain jobs are more dangerous than others. Deep-sea fishing is usually found to be the most dangerous, some 70 out of 100,000 who do that job die doing it each year. Deep-sea fishing pays more than other jobs requiring the same skills levels and training – the pay difference is for the extra risk. An alternative example is that driving a fuel tanker is more dangerous than a regular 18 wheeler rig – a point so obvious that it’s even in a TV “true story” tale where the father of the sick kid goes back to driving a tanker for the extra money for the medical bills.

So, we can observe how much more money people demand for taking those extra risks. Which is exactly what is done to work out the value of a life. For a regular American these days, it’s around $7 million since you ask. For some poor person in India, it’s a lot, lot less. Not because someone has allocated, or assigned, that value. But because poor people in India demand less money to take those extra risks – their lives are less valuable to them.

This is so well known that even NPR is able to get it right in this discussion with the economist Betsey Stephenson. And if NPR can get an economic idea right it must indeed be fairly obvious.

The lives of poorer people are not worth less because someone has assigned less value to them. It’s because by observing human behavior we can see that poorer people will take more risk for the same money, or demand less to take the same risk. We are observing human nature – as such it’s absolutely nothing to do with capitalism or any other form of economic or societal organization. It’s just one of those things that is.

The only capitalist influence here is that richer people put higher values on their own lives, charge more to take risks. No society has ever got rich without being capitalist in some degree. All societies that have been capitalist for any great length of time are rich. Those that have newly become capitalists are getting richer. Those that aren’t and have not been remain poor. The only connection between capitalism and the value of a life is, therefore, that capitalism raises the value of a life, increases it.

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