Accounting for victims

images-2There are a number of tools economists, government agencies and lawyers use to translate a death or injury into financial terms, says today’s Wall Street Journal. “These include deriving estimates from surveys about how much value people would place on, say, losing a limb or their sense of hearing; creating a life plan for medical care to estimate long-term expenses; and basing the value of a lost life on how many years it likely would have lasted if not for the unforeseen event that ended it. Feinberg said ze doesn’t take any of these into consideration. “It simply is not doable in the timeframe needed to streamline the program and get money out the door,” ze said. “I don’t think external resources are going to help you very much in what is essentially an emotional assignment.”

“As for parsing such factors as the age of victims, Feinberg said, “Spare me. You’re tying a program like this up in knots.” Ze added, “There is no substitute for getting money out the door.”

“Also, no donors specifically indicate they want their contribution to go to the neediest victims, Feinberg said.

“Kaitlynn Cates, a marathon spectator who suffered a severe calf injury, said ze understood a “sense of immediacy” demanded Feinberg disburse the funds quickly, and not based on a forensic analysis of need. If one victim was no longer able to provide for five children, “I would be the kind of person who says give it to the five children before you give it to me, but I understand from higher levels that would cause problems,” Cates said.

“Recipients receive the funds with no strings attached. For instance, they can use the funds to hire a lawyer and sue whatever party they consider responsible, Feinberg said. However, ze added that in hir experience, “For the most part, very few lawsuits follow if a fund is carried out with empathy.”

“One contentious point is whether to compensate for psychological trauma. The Boston fund won’t do it, because Feinberg said there isn’t enough money to go around. “Enough” is a subjective concept in this case — there is no baseline for how much money needs to go to double amputees or to survivors. But if ze did subtract some money from those recipients to pay for mental trauma, “then you spread it so thin, it doesn’t have any appreciable impact,” Feinberg said. Ze added, “In all of these programs, every single one that I’ve been involved in, we don’t know how to divide this money up.”

“Ted Miller, an economist who has studied the financial impact of injury, said that psychological trauma can be severe. “It’s very real, and it’s very devastating,” said Miller, a Calverton, Md.-based senior research scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, a think tank. “But it’s also harder to measure objectively, and harder to predict the course of. So it’s harder to compensate fairly and responsibly, and ze doesn’t have infinite funds here.”

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