One Life = ??? Lost Jobs;
What’s the Equation?

Statistics are the triumph of the quantitative method, and the quantitative method is the victory of sterility and death.”—Hilaire Belloc

In recent articles and comments on TAC there has been a tension between values, best illustrated by the following.    How many jobs lost should be the price for the life of an 89.98 year old man (e.g., myself)?  If that number were 23.8 and 24 jobs were to be lost, should that man die?   What is the equation you can give for lives lost as a function of economic distress?   I’ll say there isn’t any such equation, neither a personal one for me or a universal one for faithful Catholics.

What then is the principle you’re going to use if you can’t quantitate these values, put them in a scale and balance them against each other?   Could one argue that old people are a drain on economic resources? Maybe this covid-19 pandemic is God’s way of helping us to ease the economic strain imposed by Social Security and Medicare.

Or should one argue that every life has to be saved, no matter what economic cost?  These are unusual times, but the Church has set down some principles on resuscitation that might be extended to the present situation.  A relevant summary of this has been offered by William May (Zenit) , from which I will quote one pertinent sentence:

“Moreover the Church clearly teaches that it is morally wrong to impose on anyone the obligation to accept treatments that impose undue burdens on him, his family, and the wider community [emphasis added] or to accept treatments that do not offer reasonable benefits or are useless or futile.” loc. cit.

So then the question becomes what would “undue burdens” be?   I can’t answer that but perhaps some of those commenting might have their own ideas.

Before signing off, I’d like to show some recent data from the Pennsylvania Department of Health (as of 28 March, 12 n) on how the incidence of Covid-19 and the hospitalizations break down by age categories.  The data speak for themselves, so I won’t comment further at this point.

Pennsylvania Confirmed Covid-19 from PA Dept. Health

Pennsylvania Hospitalization Rates 3/6 to 3/28; from PA Dept. Health

More to explorer


  1. Seem that the death numbers in each of those 7 groups would be relevant.

    Now do the same for common flu and all of the other categories where we have large numbers of deaths. Please include car related deaths and alcohol related deaths.

  2. I would like to suggest that the real question is “What is MY life worth? And do I really have the right to demand a barista loose her job so that I be safe from the spread of Covid19? Or a medical worker be overwhelmed because I don’t want to “social distance”?

  3. JFK, I’ll try to answer your question/comment as if it were a desire for information rather than a rhetorical statement of opinion. I don’t have numerical data to support most of these comments, but I think they’re reasonable.
    1) the death numbers would parallel the hospitalization rates by age category but would be amplified by an age factor, i.e more deaths proportionally in the oldest age category;
    2) I imagine the flu data should parallel those for covid-19 (maybe amplify at younger age categories) but be less by a factor of 10 or more;
    3) car death rates at this point in time would be much larger and would be much larger fractionally for the 19-24 and 25-49 age category;
    4) For drug overdose deaths last year nationally (including all varieties) the figure is about 60,000–I guess that would be heavily weighted by the 19-24 category; I couldn’t find a breakdown by age;
    5) deaths due to alcohol nationally last year, 88,000. I don’t know if this includes auto accidents; there was no age breakdown, but I imagine it would be weighted most heavily in the 25-49 and 50-64 categories.
    JFK, I hope this gives you a qualitative answer for the information you wanted.

  4. Dr. Bob, thanks. I wasn’t expecting an attempt at 3-5. It was my understanding that the vast majority of the Covid deaths were age 60+ and most had some other underlining illness. I am interested in understanding why all of the other illnesses and causes of death aren’t given the same societal preventive measures.
    Btw, I’m not try to be argumentative or dismissive.

  5. Because the novelty of a new illness gave the Left an excuse to act out their recession fantasy in their never ending quest to get rid of the bad orange man.

    That would be my guess.

  6. I find it interesting that here in Pennsylvania, the 25-49 group has a higher infection rate than the 50-64 group I am in, and that the hospitalization rate is close.
    My missus has asthma, a mild case, so she is at somewhere higher risk than me. Hey, I just go to get groceries and gas – and I go outside when the weather allows. I was my hands and give God thanks for my Slavic immune system ( stick tap to Catholic blogger John Zmirak).

  7. JFK and Ernst, I think there are elements of truth in what you both say. But I wonder what would happen if no measures were taken. The current fatality rate (5 pm EDT, 28/3) 1991/119748 or about 1.7%.
    In Italy it’s 10,023/92,472 or about 10%.
    Suppose the number of cases for covid-19 would be the same as for flu from Oct 2019-March 2020 (see here:
    That would be 41,000,000. Suppose the fatality rate continues at 1.7%. That would give 682,000 deaths; if the fatality rate approaches that of Italy, it would be 4 million. There seems to me to be a qualitative difference between the covid-19 pandemic and flu/traffic/drug/alcohol fatalities.

  8. Bob-
    don’t forget that the Italian CDC stated that less than 15% (11 or 12, depending on who was talking) of the kung flu deaths were contributed to by having the virus, because of how they fill out their death certificates. (Basically, a lot of people are catching it in the hospital, like that poor soccer player for IIRC Spain who was getting leukemia treatment and died.)

    Plus, of course, the sampling issue of over-sampling the visibly/very ill.

  9. Thanks, foxfier for that information… I didn’t realize that only 15% of the covid-19 deaths in Italy were actually due to complications from the virus. There’s also the fact that the population of Italy is much older (very low birth rate) that would contribute to a higher fatality rate.
    If we go to the UK, the fatality rate is still high, 1021/17,312 or about 5.3%. And that rate would yield about 2 million deaths if the incidence of covid-19 was like that of flu.

  10. We have a lot of empty hotels that could be turned into quarantine or convalescent wards.
    Maybe we shouldn’t have been so afraid of overwhelming the the hospitals.

    Just spitballin’ here.

  11. “Moreover the Church clearly teaches that it is morally wrong to impose on anyone the obligation to accept treatments that impose undue burdens on him, his family, and the wider community [emphasis added] or to accept treatments that do not offer reasonable benefits or are useless or futile.”

    Seems to me the Government claims the same privilege as the individual which they clearly do. Triage is necessary to save working folks with families in my opinion, . Old folks are expendable and they shouldn’t complain about it

  12. “Old folks are expendable and they shouldn’t complain about it.”

    That’s NOT a Scriptural attitude.

    Sirach 25:3-6

    3 Unless you learn what you can while you are young, you will never be wise when you reach old age. 4 Sound judgment, good advice, and gray hair go together beautifully. 5 Wisdom, understanding, and sound counsel are appropriate to the aged and the respected. 6 Elderly people wear the crown of long experience, and they can boast of nothing finer than their fear of the Lord.

  13. Has there been any discussion of the link between a healthy national economy and the resource availability to support the health care system? How much health care can a tanked economy support and for how long?

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