Problem Management — principles

The law of supply and demand tells us that something is worth what it is because that's the price at which people are willing to buy and sell it. But do things actually have any intrinsic value?

Consider something as precious (or as worthless) as a human life.

If a small boy falls down a well, people will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars attempting to rescue him, and the newsmedia will spend millions of dollars worth of print and air time covering the story. And while this is happening, hundreds of other small boys will die elsewhere of disease, abuse, and starvation, just as happens every day, with effectively no news coverage.

Now is that first small boy's life somehow worth so much more than those others?

If several students are killed in a school shooting, again the media converge on it. Schools across the nation, and even in other countries lower their flags and offer memorial services. And while this is happening, hundreds of others are shot in other circumstances every day, yet little attention is paid.

Again, are the lives of those students worth so much more than everyone else's?

Six people share a hospital ward. One has hepatitis, two nephritis, one heart failure, one lung problems, and the sixth has a broken leg.

Consider two possible outcomes. Five patients die and one goes home with a cast on his leg. Or five patients receive liver, kidney, heart, and lung transplants and continue to live long and healthy lives, but the sixth one is dead.

No one consciously makes that decision, but it's made every day. In practice, the life of that one patient is worth more than the lives of the other five.

Dreadful diseases such as leprosy can be cured with a $300 treatment of pills. A dinner, play, and hotel for the night can easily cost $300. Is a few hours of personal entertainment really worth more than preventing the suffering and death of an afflicted child? Whether you realize it or not, whether you admit it or not, that is a choice you make when you buy the tickets.