Thirty shekels, each worth half a troy ounce of silver, was the value of a slave in the Ancient Near East. A woman (at the time) was also worth thirty shekels and even a free man was only worth fifty.i
Now take a glance at that silver maple leaf on your desk and note the embossed lettering beneath Queen Elizabeth II’s youthful profile indicating a value of “5 DOLLARS” and not a farthing more. So if we do a bit of math, and we generously assume that you’re a free man (and my goodness I may never be so generous again this year), your life is worth $125.00. That’s one hundred twenty-five loonies, mind you, none of that fancy USD business.ii
Do with that information what you will. Take it to the art auction. Take it to the grocery store. Take it wherever and whenever you may choose. But that’s the value of a dollar and by extension the value of a useful life (and not the other way around).
This value was worked out over a few millenia by some pretty bright folks. Granted, they hadn’t yet developed complex economies quite like the ones we have today, but they understood value just fine thank you very much. Their society had specialisation, hierarchy, commerce, you name it – and the strength of generation after generation of refinement – to their credit. These aren’t cro-magnons we’re talking about here, these are the people from whom we derive our ethical and legal philosophies from. And if your response is “ugh, actually ‘we’ don’t derive jackshit from those old geezers because we’ve progressed so far beyond that it’s not even funny,” then you’re in for a rude awakening, my friend.
How so? Well, people are people and no amount of wizardry, sorcery, and gadgetry is going to improve on this broken code of ours. The “we” that matters understands history very, very well, and by extension how best to beat the code of mankind into a useable form – one capable of art. After all, the hardware we have is the only hardware we’re going to get and the software that works thereupon is the software that works thereupon. It might be hard, it might be grueling and demanding and “unfair,” but it works. And that’s worth more than all the iPhones in China.
It’s plain enough to see that “user friendly” political software only works on magical dream-powered hardware that most certainly doesn’t exist today anymore than a half-yeti-half-lochness-monster is your manservant today. Likewise, this socialist idea of valuing life at infinity plus one trillion dollars is patently insane, contradicts all history and economic understanding, and so when it’s brought into praxis, soon crumbles at the hands of a million “unforeseeable” events (aka “reality”), be those dropping oil prices or airplanes crashing into building or what have you.
But until the cold black swan of reality snaps those dozy-eyed pupils awake, the consequences of placing a value of $∞+1 on human life are clear to see in everything from outsized health care programsiii to 4″ guardrail spacingiv to homogenous car design.v Basically, on all fronts and in all manners, what follows is the redistribution of wealth from the productive to the unproductive and the sacrifice of art at the alter of “the people.”
Just as the ancients did, it’s up to every society, specifically, the judges and magistrates therein, to decide what a life is worth. We’ve seen the unfortunate and “unintended” consequences of valuing it too highly, and we can likewise appreciate what a society would look like if it were valued at zero.
It seems to me that we’re overdue to value life in real terms again. Might I propose… a bitcent.
___ ___ ___
- This, of course, like everything else in that rather sandy part of the world, was negotiable. So, for example, Joseph of dazzlingly coloured dreamcoat fame, was sold for only twenty shekels. Of course, Joseph ended up being far more valuable than this, but we can’t make a rule based on an exception. [↩]
- An ounce of silver is about USD$ 17.00 at the moment, but given that one of these things is in theory finite and the other is in theory infinite, it doesn’t make much sense to compare them. Hardly apples to apples now is it ?
Also worth noting is the population inflation that’s taken place since the early days of empire. Back when a free man’s life was only worth 50 shekels, there were maybe 50 million people on the planet. [↩]
- Half of a state’s budget just for health care ? No wonder Alberta wants to raise taxes, free and practically unlimited non-emergency health service is the least tenable idea in the entire world. There’s no end to the list of maladies a sick person can concoct in their own minds and convince their legally liable* medical attendant to believe. Free shit perverts incentives and leads to ruin, no matter how rosy and “moral” the ideals of those proposing ever-greater spending on the social safety net.
*This thing where corporations have limited liability and can run around fleecing people without reprecussions, whereas “free” medical doctors are liable if you’re unlucky and unfortunate enough to die despite their best efforts is quite entirely backwards. The sane solution is for affairs to work in exactly the opposite way. Seriously now, no one has a right to perfect medical treatment anymore than they have a right to perfect sex. If your sex sucks, find someone better, don’t lawyer up and take them to court. Idem health care. If someone is looking after you, be that in the bedroom or on the hospital gurney, and you’re not directly paying them out-of-pocket, you should be kissing their feet no matter the outcome, not suing their asses. Really, what’s wrong with peoples’ heads ? [↩]
- This is an actual law in Alberta’s Building Code, that the horizontal space between railing posts on handrails and guardrails must be less than or equal to 4″ across and must not have horizontal elements that may act as climbable steps. This is ostensibly to prevent half-retarded kids from killing themselves in this one very narrow manner, but it comes at the cost of an aesthetic travesty that turns what was once an opportunity for artistic expression into another generic and forgettable castration of design. The result is that every guardrail and handrail looks exactly the same as any other whether we’re looking at a $150,000 house or a $15,000,000 house. The only way out is to use glass railings, but even that get awfully monotonous after a while. Meh, just another law to repeal when we unravel the bureaucratic braindamage and let artists breathe again, neh ? [↩]
- The flat-fronts, super-sized grilles, small windows (daylight openings), large wheels, and low-profile tires of new cars is the direct result pedestrian impact requirements. The idea being that less pointy front-ends are, I dunno, 18% less likely to send a struck pedestrian to hospital. So front-ends have to be taller, broader, and blunter, which necessitates a taller beltline. Since the height of a car can’t change much, in order to maintain attractive proportions, the wheels have to be larger and the windows smaller, which makes the cars less comfortable in pretty much every way. The way that car manufacturers are currently working around this regulation is by offering a plethora of “baby-SUVs” that give designers a little more vehicle height to play with, thereby allowing windows to be of a useable size. But even these all end up looking the same. [↩]