As Nicolas Treich shows in his article on the value of a human life in economics in this issue, in a context of the rationalization of budget decisions, the evaluation of public policies might draw more frequently on the statistical value of human life to inform analyses before political decisions are taken. This economic tool is part of the classical arsenal of cost-benefit analysis in the Anglo-Saxon world. Though used less systematically in France, the idea of attributing a value to human life is not entirely new there. As Alain Parant shows, looking back at analyses published almost 40 years ago by the French economist and demographer Alfred Sauvy, it is relatively easy to determine the cost of a human life and to assess the opportunity embodied in it or its “profitability” at different points in the age cycle (depending on whether we are in a stationary or a growing economy). And, though it is more difficult or less “politically correct” to determine its value, Sauvy argues that that value does have a de facto existence in the form of the socio-economic treatment applied to people at different times of their lives, but that this is not always based on sound assessment criteria.
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