Everyone is getting a good laugh out of it, but I can only imagine that it's a stunt by someone trying to prove a point. I can't imagine even the dumbest person on Earth using that number. And it also puts something of a cap on the Katrina debate for me. Namely, what's a human life worth? Obviously, there were many comments by the black community, and Kanye West, about the response to Katrina, but only this really drove home the point that the national debate isn't about repairing New Orleans, or helping fellow Americans, or repairing industry. It's about the value of human life.
Were these people, poor and primarily black, less valuable than other lives. How can we actually attach a value to it. We do it all the time in court cases, and the values CHANGE from case to case. Are we afraid to attach a direct value, for any court case, that one person is worth X? Do we decide based on the number of crying relatives who come to the stand? Usually, yes. The movie A Civil Action said it best,
"It's like this. A dead plaintiff is rarely worth more than a living severely-maimed plaintiff. However, if it's a long slow agonizing death as opposed to a quick drowning or car wreck, the value can rise considerably. A dead adult in his 20s is generally worth less than one who is middle aged. A dead woman less than a dead man. A single adult less than one who's married. Black less than white. Poor less than rich. The perfect victim is a white male professional, 40 years old, at the height of his earning power, struck down at his prime. And the most imperfect, well in the calculus of personal injury law, a dead child is worth the least of all."
Who's to say a life isn't worth a quadrillion dollars? Especially with Katrina victims, who have suffered for an amazing amount of time as the Federal government has dropped the ball repeatedly. We can't base value on suffering. I guess we could base it on economic output and probability of societal benefit. By that measure, the people of New Orleans are worth less than your average, well-off American. They do less and are likely to merely live out their lives and die anyhow. So then, the question becomes why we should value them at all.
Is it entirely a matter of justice? If we take the eye-for-an-eye approach, we're still forced to try and valuate a human life. Very difficult. I don't think it can be justice since that's too personal. Justice exists on a human level, not on a societal level. Societal justice is merely the society bending to the will of a person for, usually, revenge. And again, we're forced to valuate a life.
If it's dealing with negligence, then we have something. We are punishing those who are negligent to prevent future negligence, thus benefiting all of society. And in this case, the crying relatives should have nothing to do with the case since the valuation must be based on the depths of the negligence. A doctor who makes a mistake because he's tired and gets hammered with 100 crying relatives is toast, while a doctor who made deadly decisions for financial reasons on a person who has no one will likely get off easy, perhaps even keeping their license.
I generally like to take the economic view. These people are very likely to never achieve anything other than living and dying. As such, I do NOT see them as valuable as other people who are likely to achieve things in life. Fat, dumb, and poor does not greatness make. Unfortunately, this cold view of reality doesn't jive with another, partially emotional view I have. In the past, much greatness as risen from the depths of poverty. It's the reason we work with the mentally retarded, drive towards early care for poor children, and send people to the streets in hopes of helping the drug addicted and homeless. An enlightened society MUST recognize that the greatest contributions can come from its weakest members. We must hope against hope.
So, again, I'm back at being unable to come to an answer for myself. I know that probability strongly says these people will never do anything. It says not to care and to concentrate my energy elsewhere. But I can't stop valuing any human life as the next breakthrough in medicine or art. Anyone, at anytime could do it. All you have to do is watch Connections to know that. In these idealistic terms, a human life, any life, is priceless.