Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 61.djvu/126

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120
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

THE COMMERCIAL VALUE OF HUMAN LIFE.
By MARSHALL O. LEIGHTON.

ENLIGHTENED society readily grants that the lives of its members constitute its most treasured resource. Legislative authority has reserved its severest penalties for those who plot against and destroy its subjects. Along with the advancement of civilization has come a higher and higher appreciation of the inalienable right of the human organism to live its allotted time, and the most benign forms of government in the present day assume that its first duty is the preservation of the life and the comfort of its units.

Pagan history reveals a frightful waste of the resource vested in human life, and early Christian times are marked by only a slight improvement. Wanton destruction continued to be common even to a later date, and is at the present time excused under well-known and unusual circumstances. Yet the tendency has been and will ever be to preserve more and more securely bodily existence of mankind.

There are two radically distinct measures of human life. The one is purely humanitarian and considers only the divinity of man. Under such an estimate, the life of an individual must be priceless, and cannot be approximately valued in terms employed in monetary denomination. The other seeks to eliminate all sentimental considerations, and deals with the individual upon the basis of his value to the community as a productive agent, like a horse, locomotive or cotton gin. The second basis of measurement is an unpopular one, and has received so little attention that it is regarded as undeterminable by the general public. The majority of the computations set forth in the few paragraphs now available can be regarded as little more than wild, disingenious guesses.

What, then, determines the value of human life? As eminent an authority as Rochard has stated that it is the sum "that the individual has cost his family, the community or the state, for his living, development and education. It is the loan which the individual has made from the social capital in order to reach the age when he can restore it by his labor." It is hardly probable, however, that this statement will receive permanent acceptance by a thoughtful man. A little reflection will show that it reverts to the generally discredited and socialistic theory that values are determined by cost. Under such a valuation, the resource vested in an individual grows from birth, not with his increasing powers of production and the greater certainty of