Pricing Lives: Guideposts for a Safer Society

On Balance: Review of “Pricing Lives: Guideposts for a Safer Society” by W. Kip Viscusi

Review by James K. Hammitt

June 4, 2018

Pricing Lives: Guideposts for a Safer Society  (Princeton University Press, 2018) is a tour de force. It provides an entertaining, accessible account of the modern approach to valuing mortality risk. In non-technical prose, it covers the major aspects of the approach and how it should be applied to social decisions.  It shows how US regulatory agencies’ adoption of the ‘value per statistical life’ (VSL) to replace the ‘cost of death’ (i.e., human capital) approach has led to more-protective regulation and argues the VSL approach should be extended beyond regulation, to private-sector decisions about product design and to government sanctions for regulatory violations. It also finds that the values used outside the US are typically far too small; revising these upward would lead to more-protective and more-appropriate regulation in other countries.

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