The Economic Value of a Human Life, And Other Interesting Reads

Linkblogging is definitely allowed in a pandemic. Here are some words I believe are worth your attention.

Planet Money Ep 991 – Lives vs The Economy

How do you value a human life? Planet Money takes us through the economists’ lens with a history lesson on how this questions has been answered in public policy debates over the past several decades (which is different than say, damages for wrongful death lawsuits). Bunch of new information for me including:

“There’s a rule that any federal safety regulation that’s going to cost more than a hundred million dollars a year has to pass a cost-benefit test. So, for example, seatbelts that beep at you – how much would it cost to install beeping seatbelts, and how many lives, in dollars, would be saved by it?”

“We do not adjust the value of statistical life for age. That means we don’t have a senior discount. That also means we don’t have a baby boost or child boost. It’s the same number, whether you’re 2, or 42, or 82. And I think a lot of people can see the problems with that.”

Matt Mullenweg – Distributed Work’s Five Levels of Autonomy

Matt has run WordPress/Automattic as a distributed team since the very beginning, even eliminating a beautiful SF office to ensure there wouldn’t be an implicit status bias towards “remoting” from SF. So I consider him one of the most thoughtful leaders when it comes to these questions, having accrued his “10,000 hours” of time on the issue (plus generally being a smart fellow).

This post is a short summary of a concept he covers on Sam Harris’ podcast, modeled after the five levels of self-driving autonomy (although it kind of also reminded me of Buddhist practices). Level Zero is a job which cannot be done today unless you are physically present and Level Five is… well, click through and read.

Greg Kumparak/TechCrunch – Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson on Shifting a 3,000-Person Company to Fully Remote

Twilio’s CEO Jeff Lawson should be included in any discussion of “who are the most impressive startup CEOs of the last decade.” Helped invent the commercial cloud API as part of the developer stack, took his company public (currently $15b market cap) and leads boldly and outspoken with values/culture. So I’m going to pay more attention to his lessons learned over the last few weeks than your Twitter bon mot. This interview is part of ExtraCrunch [paywall]. I’ll tease you with the ending paragraphs:

“I miss seeing people,” he says. “I think a lot of folks’ lifestyles are going to actually adopt more virtual work. I wouldn’t be surprised if we all come back and people are more likely to take a day or two a week and decide to work from home. We’ll know how it all works; it won’t be mysterious or scary, or like someone’s not showing up. It’ll just be… natural.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” he continues, “if there are some employees who say… ‘you know what? I actually really liked that. I don’t want to go back to the office.’ And you know what? I bet that’ll be okay.”

“I think there will be some folks who just can’t wait to return to the office — and that’s fine too!”

Sandra Upson/Wired – The Devastating Decline of a Brilliant Young Coder

The only hesitation over including this beautifully written profile is the flinch I sometimes have when a protagonist isn’t in the position to give consent (Lee, the third founder of Cloudflare who is suffering from dementia). But it’s clearly done with love and caring, and the participation of his friends and family. I’ve met Lee’s cofounders Matthew and Michelle and I read this story twice – first as a Cloudflare history and then as an individual’s personal journey. Both were valuable and impactful.