The Value of a Human Life

| Tue Jul. 26, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

What's your life worth, in dollars? That question routinely bedevils federal bean counters. Though calculating the "value of a statistical life" (VSL) may sound callous or morbid, it can lead to stronger safety and environmental regulations. For example, auto safety rules that would cost $100 million to implement but might protect $500 million worth of lives (say, 100 people at $5 million a pop) are seen as a good deal, cost-benefit-wise.

VSLs can vary widely, depending on the agency crunching the numbers and the administration in office. As this chart shows, the feds currently think each of us is worth somewhere between $5 million and $9.1 million.

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