Lives to Save and Lives to Spend

I was thinking about GW’s speech last night, as well as Rich Lowry’s comments which I never heard. It occurs to me that while we don’t like to talk about it, we do assign different valuations to the lives of different cohorts of people. There still remains some semblance of “women and children first” – the idea being that if you have to sacrifice anyone, you sacrifice men first.

Similarly, I’m a member of Kaiser health plan. Most years, they offer flu shots to the elderly first… the elderly are more susceptible. However, I suspect that if a pandemic that killed very large numbers of people indiscriminately came by, and there were only a fraction of the doses needed for all, the elderly would be at the back of the list of those who would get shots. Children and young adults would be first in line. I haven’t thought through how to be prove this, but I imagine that these two groups are implicitly the most valuable to society.

If there wasn’t enough for children and young adults both, and the pandemic was serious enough to potentially wipe out entire cities, my suspicion is that the young adults would have first priority even over children – they, at least can survive on their own.

Interestingly, in war, that’s also the first group sacrificed – they’re the ones that make up the bulk of the military, after all. Why the paradox? In part, its because they have the best characteristics for fighting and thus for winning. (Listen to me – I’m sounding like GW!) Also, in this “war of ideas,” there are those who have the ideas, those that sell the ideas, those who cheerlead the ideas, and those whose existence alone is important. Those who implement the ideas are another group entirely.