How much is an elder's life worth?

I am one of the purportedly most vulnerable among us, elderly and with chronic lung problems, so I appreciate all the sacrifices the rest of society are making to protect my life.  But even as an ostensible beneficiary of the lockdown, I worry that these sacrifices are just not worth it.  I appreciate the efforts to save my life, but I would rather my children and grandchildren face a world that is not bankrupt.  I think many of us in the later stages of life worry less about prolonging the lives we have already lived for so many years and more about the world we are leaving to "our scared honor ... and posterity," as the signers of the Declaration of Independence put it.  We have already gone a long way down life's path, but there are others who have yet to get very far.

In that vein, an elderly reader, seeing my thoughts via email, produced this calculus of the monetary cost of prolonging the lives of the elderly:

I ran a few simple numbers to gauge the cost to the US per life saved by shutting down the economy and it is mind blowing.

The average death rate in the US is about 9 per thousand population and with 330 million people this comes to 2.97 million deaths annually.

The cost for shutting down the economy, as per current instructions, will run at least $5 trillion between the various government stimulus and assistance bills and lost tax revenues by the Federal and State governments.

If we did not order everyone to quarantine in place and let business go on as normally as possible, then we might realize 500 thousand deaths to this virus, a 16% increase over normal. With the current guidelines the death estimate is about 100 thousand, or 3.3% above normal. Then, what we are paying per life saved, is $5trillion/ 400 thousand, or $12,500,000 per life saved.

The majority of people dying are elderly (like me), 79% over age 65 or 92% over age 55. With hindsight it would seem that it would have made more sense to quarantine those over 65 and let the economy continue as close to normal as possible. This would also have let the younger generation build up a herd immunity to the virus.

Photo credit: Pixabay.

If you experience technical problems, please write to