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Tuesday, January 9, 2007
Valuing future lives
A very interesting and wide-ranging post at the Economist blog ties environmentalism and abortion. That's right. The blogger -- anonymous as ever, this being the Economist -- notes that the Stern Report, a document prepared for the British government on the economic costs of global warming, uses as an assumption the idea that future lives are worth just as much as present ones.
This approach has been disputed by William Nordhaus, a Yale economist, and he is right to argue that in ordinary intuitive logic this is a radical notion. How, then, to justify the legality of abortion, the Economist blogger and Nordhaus ask, if future lives are just as valued? Indeed, how to justify the idea that I am more valuable than a person yet to be conceived?
It's a question that has nagged ethical philosophers for ages. Strange that it's now entered the sphere of economics as a matter of debate. But we all have to wrestle with what a "fair" burden our grandchildren should bear for our current environmental state of affairs, not to mention other social problems we're sure to pass on.