Friday, April 13, 2012


The debate lingers as the fiscal crunch hammers away at our psyche. Some decry the high cost of drugs, others the cost of healthcare. Some give ill-founded reasoning for employing less diagnostic procedures, all this while the human lifespan continues to increase as a result of better care and earlier diagnosis. We beget what we set out to do and then having that which we sought, now we wish not to. It is the ultimate human irony. Beneath all this angst is the ever-lurking question of money.

So I was asked what my thoughts are in terms of the worth of human life.

My answer:

It is impossible to place a dollar value on any life. Think about it for a minute. If the worth is based on an annual worth then people living in poverty have a value of less than $35,000. While those that have jobs in the financial sector may be earning in the millions. Equally if it is based on net worth then some may exceed the 12-digit number of the billions. But truly is that it? No, it seems too ill thought, superficially practical maybe but gives absolutely no value for the individual’s mind and it’s worth to the rest of humanity.


Well, now, think about it for another minute. What about the intellect that never rose to the level, where it could be weighed in dollar amounts? A pregnant pause ensues, where you might bring all your brain’s synaptic transmissions to cease for a moment, blunting any directive to other thoughts, for this is a complex question. Isn’t it?

Indeed, how does one equate brilliance? Remember Srinivasa Ramanujan the Indian mathematician who died at the age of 32 with more numbers, axioms and answers to riddles buried deep in his brain then were available in the library. You could have asked G.H. Hardy of Cambridge, England for his opinion and you would have heard this, “A mathematician, like a painter or a poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas..”  Ramanujan’s abbreviated life offered much and still had much to offer when it was cut short. Or, look at the complex tortured mind of John Forbes Nash who won the Nobel Prize but it meant nothing to him. Prior to the prize he had been committed to a mental asylum for his own safety. Yet he is the author of the Game Theory that is in daily use in large corporations vying for customers and the template for modern day commerce.

Before you go thinking that I am equating numbers with dollars and trying to eke out a cost basis of the human life. This might change your mind. Ever think how lonely, dry and totally “unwashed” literature would be had Shakespeare not written his plays and sonnets. He was not wealthy. But for his poverty in needs, our wealth has multiplied many fold from his written words.

Consider this Shakespeare gem:
Sweet are the uses of adversity,  

Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, 

Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;  

And this our life, exempt from human haunt, 

Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,  

Sermons in stones, and good in everything. 

I would not change it

 Or take Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who can still pluck at anyone’s heartstrings with the cadence of his symphonies. He died of consumption, a pauper, at the age of 36 years, yet since the 1700s he has provided us with the joy of music.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart,Violin Concerto No. 5 in A, 2nd Movement.

Imagine if he had lived.

Or think about Margaret Mitchell, the author of the “Gone with the Wind” fame, who died at the age of 49 years by a speeding drunk driver. That book brought her fame and is still worthy of rereading many times over. How much would we spend to save these lives?

So is there a worth of the human life that creates magic on a $5 million Stradivarius in the middle of a DC Metro train station before the daily workers or in Carnegie Hall or the Lincoln Center in Manhattan in front of wealthy patrons? Yes Joshua Bell is wealthy but oh what gentle breezes of sound waves he creates that push and twist the sentiments of our souls.

Joshua Bell at DC Metro Station

Speaking of wealthy, imagine how mundane life was before Steve Jobs burst onto the scene. 

From his fruit of labor to the pixels of screen magic to the ubiquitous device in the hands of millions, 

Steve Jobs’ worth in employing thousands across the globe and giving birth to an industry that employs millions cannot be put in numerical value. Similarly Bill Gates follows in similar path. He is a billionaire who’s talents has spawned millions of jobs across the world.

Speaking of the lowly human life of a tyrant, what would one place a price on that infamous head, such as Hitler, or Mussolini or Genghis Khan. These people snuffed lives in their prime. What would their worth be in the bazaar of life?

This then brings us to the remote question that originates from the far reaches of human calculus. What is the price of a human being?

The answer is in a little story that follows.

He was born to a single mother. He did not receive formal education, nor did he receive any vocational help to gain a reasonable employment. But he had a gift of solving puzzles. At the age of six, he had figured out the Rubic’s cube in 15 seconds. At age ten he had figured out the mathematical derivation of the Beethovan’s Ninth. At age 15 he had written a few million lines of software codes for a friend. At age 20 he contracted a terminal disease and at age 22 he was gone. He died alone, penniless in the arms of a nurse in the hospital. What would be his worth, had he lived? A question that shall remain unanswered for the rest of human existence.

You see, or maybe you don’t, but there is no easy way to define the monetary value of a human life.

It is the glorious predicate of the human spirit that drives the gears of progress and its unfathomable worth. Within each human is embodied the splendor and dynamics that can and does change the world for the better.

And you say?

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