What Should Be Exchanged for a Human Life?: Cost-benefit and Covid-19

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Has COVID-19 strengthened the case to use cost-benefit analysis (CBA), including cash values assigned to lives? CBA derives from utilitarian economics. Utilitarianism’s weaknesses have been noted and attempts made to refine its application to economics. The Christian worldview implies an immense value should be placed on every human life. A theological economics would almost certainly critique key assumptions underpinning utilitarianism and hence of CBA. This article seeks to show that this need not mean a ban on use of CBA. We suggest, particularly in the context of COVID, that CBA, including valuations or exchange values for a life, can be used subject to ethical constraints. While this analysis yields ambivalent results as to the cost-benefit outcome for “large scale” policy responses, such as national lockdowns, “smaller scale” policies, such as masks, vaccination, and incentives to be vaccinated, may more likely produce net benefits
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161-185
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Markets and Morality
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 30 Jul 2022


  • Covid-19
  • Economic impact
  • Utilitarianism
  • Economic ethics
  • Morality
  • Christian morality
  • cost-benefit analysis
  • Value of human life


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