Cass R. Sunstein, Inequality and the Value of a Statistical Life, J. Benefit-Cost Analysis (2023).
Abstract: A uniform value of a statistical life (VSL) is part of established practice within the federal government. Some people have applauded a uniform VSL on the ground that it respects the equality of persons; takes harm to poor people as seriously as it does harm to wealthy people; avoids expressive harms; and builds appropriate wealth redistribution into regulatory policy. Other people have strenuously objected to a uniform VSL, emphasizing that to reduce mortality risks, poor people are willing to pay less than rich people are, and urging that poor people should not have to pay more than they are willing to pay. Whether a uniform VSL is in the interest of poor people depends on whether we are dealing with subsidies or regulations. In the case of subsidies, a uniform VSL is highly likely to benefit poor people. If we are dealing with regulations, we cannot know whether a uniform VSL helps or harms poor people without knowing the incidence of costs (and benefits).