Deaths from Consumption

Human deaths resulting from consumption constitute a unique category, requiring special treatment.

The issue is not that such deaths raise ethical concerns, because this is true for health damage as well. Ethical and other social criteria must always be applied beyond the narrow calculations of any economic framework, including ENL. The present issue is how to estimate the purely economic losses associated with consumption-related deaths.

Fortunately, this type of problem has been thoroughly addressed by various governments and global organizations.

For example, the provincial government of British Columbia, Canada publishes statistics on the "potential years of life lost'' (PYLL) from different types of accidents, diseases, etc.

This measurement gives added weight to causes of death that afflict younger people and so is higher for car accident deaths than for prostate cancer deaths, in part because teenagers tend to die in cars, whereas older men tend to die of prostate cancer. In this sense, a death in the average fatal car accident is "worse" than the average prostate cancer death.

The Canadian government's version of this metric is YLL — years of life lost. It also defines the HALY — health-adjusted life years, which combines YLL with year-equivalents lost to reduced functioning. The HALY measure thus combines the quantity of life lost with the quality lost due to health impairment.

On the global stage, the most common metric used in this connection is the DALY — disability-adjusted life years, which was formulated by the World Health Organization (WHO). According to public health expert Barry Bloom:

These statistics tabulate the number of healthy years lost to injury, illness, and premature deaths and can be broken down in numerous ways: by disease, region, age, gender, and so on. By allowing the effects of disease to be accurately tallied and tracked, DALYs have opened a new era in preventive health care.1

This health-loss approach has been adopted by ENL. If a 50-year-old dies from a drug overdose, and if this person was expected to live to age 75, then the health that would have been gained by this person over those 25 years is negated.

This is referred to in ENL as lost potential health. Such losses constitute a decrease in the output's potential value.

For a dangerous drug, the overdose deaths it typically causes would contribute to its negative potential value. The same is true for cigarettes. Some of the negative potential value of this output is due to the severe health degradation caused by smoking. For the most part, however, it is due to the stunning mortality, and thus the massive lost potential health, associated with this addiction.

Some outputs are not inherently deadly, but still cause deaths from time to time. Examples include meat (choking), baby cribs (suffocation), parachutes, and diving gear. For such outputs, the deaths that typically result from their utilization will cause their potential value to slightly decline.

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