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The devaluation of life


W. Kip Viscusi, Vanderbilt University Law School, 131 21st Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37203, USA. Email:


The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been the target of two recent controversies involving the devaluation of life: the 2003 use of a senior discount for the value of statistical life for people over age 65, and the 2008 downward reassessment of the value of statistical life by the EPA Air Office. Even though these new values of statistical life were still among the highest used in the Federal government, there was a strong negative public reaction to each. The public outcry over the EPA policies appears to have stemmed from an irrational response to decreases in the value of statistical life. Proposed Congressional legislation that purportedly seeks to reform the valuations would politicize benefit assessments. A sounder approach is to establish a peer-reviewed scientific advisory panel to advise agencies on the value of statistical life.