Sunday December 05, 2021

The inhumanity of VSL

May 12, 2020

A recent study about the effects of lockdown on various countries has been carried out. The study, 'The benefits and costs of social distancing in rich and poor countries’', has been authored by Zachary Barnett-Howell and Ahmed Mushfiq Mubarak. Both these authors are highly credentialed economists at Yale, where this study has been published. The basic premise of this study is that: in case of poor countries with large populations like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria etc, the cost of enforcing an economic lockdown is too steep and thus not viable to be implemented.

To arrive at their rather inhumane conclusions, the authors have used a vague model from economic literature called the value of statistical life model or VSL. The VSL supposedly tells us the dollar value of human life in different contexts. In simpler terms, the study tells us that in poor countries like Pakistan, which the study especially names, the dollar value of human lives saved as a result of lockdown is much lower then the economic output which would be lost because of the lockdown. The PTI government seems to be following this study, when it decided to open up the economy in spite of all indications pointing in the other direction. The irony is that daily wagers are named as the major reason for the ease in lockdowns: where as in fact, the daily wagers are the ones whose lives are not considered worth saving.

Akbar Jan Marwat