How much is a child’s life worth?
I have been writing about Turkish data in the Hürriyet Daily News for nearly 6 years. Important figures I need to report on were released this week. I just can’t this time, I am sorry.
The relevant numbers for the current account deficit and industrial production, 4.9 and 7.2, are meaningless at the moment. The only numbers that matter are 15 (years old), 16 (kilograms), 269 (days in coma), 11 (March) and 7 (a.m.). Berkin Elvan, who had been shot in the head with a gas canister after leaving home to buy bread at the height of the Gezi protests, died Tuesday (March 11) morning.
How much was his life worth? Insurance companies calculate that a new treatment must guarantee one year of quality life for $50,000 or less to be worth its cost. If a planned safety code would cost more than $5 million for every person it would save, regulators in the U.S. usually deem it to be too expensive.
Economists adopt a more humanitarian approach based on free will: If you are willing to pay up to $6,000 on a safer car that will reduce your risk of dying in a car accident by one in 1,000, you value your own life at $6 million. This is actually a typical figure for U.S. residents, so you can’t really blame their regulators for valuing their lives at $5-10 million apiece.
Such calculations disregard the millions who would have given up all their possessions so that all of those who died during the Gezi protests, Berkin, Ali İsmail, Ethem, Abdullah, Mehmet, Ahmet and Medeni and even the police officers Mustafa and Ahmet, could live. Wouldn’t that make their lives priceless? How much would you value all the tears shed for Berkin since Tuesday? Would you calculate the loss to the economy of those who left work on Wednesday (March 12) to attend his funeral?
When looked at through this lens, Ali İsmail Korkmaz’s life is worth more than not only the Espark shopping mall, behind which his statue stands today, and the mall that is to be built in Gezi Park’s place, but all the shopping malls of Turkey. Berkin’s life is worth more than all the shoeboxes of money that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was allegedly telling his son Bilal to “zero” in leaked phone conversations. Mustafa Sarı’s life is worth more than all the gas canisters used by the riot police since the end of May.
But not everyone is like us. For ex-minister Egemen Bağış, we are merely necrophiles, as he tweeted on March 12. When asked about Berkin in a TV interview the night of his funeral, Erdoğan showed his usual obsession with markets by remarking that Turkish assets were affected in the morning, but then recovered. It seems the important figures for him are 63,259 (the BIST index at the end of March 12) and 2.25 (the lira-dollar exchange rate that day).
He is gravely mistaken. The relevant numbers for him should be millions (of people who commemorated Berkin across the world) and 30 (March). After all, Berkin’s mother cried, “It is not Allah who took my son away. It is Tayyip Erdoğan.” We are sure to never forget that.