Foreign Life Valuation

How should wexlerU.S. policymakers value foreign lives?  The University of Illinois Law Review Online recently published a symposium issue exploring a variety of perspectives on this question.  The pieces respond to Valuing Foreign Lives, published last year by IntLawGrrl Lesley Wexler (pictured right) and her colleague Arden Rowell (pictured below). That article offers a theoretical framework to guide government officials in determining when and how to value foreign lives in domestic policymaking.  It tees up several policy puzzles that this symposium begins to address, bringing together different disciplinary approaches and case studies.  Foregrounding the state’s potential duties and obligations to foreigners, philosopher Colleen Murphy explores three moral questions involved in valuing foreign lives.  Law professor Jonathan Masur enters the discussion from the other side, focusing on foreign individuals’ accountability to other states, and offering rationales that favor a less transparent and more ad hoc approach.  Yours truly presents immigration law as a case study that highlights some of the challenges of foreign life valuation.  Both psychologist Paul Slovic and law professor Lesley Wexler explore humanitarian interventions and the impact of the psychological bias known as the prominence effect oardenn foreign life valuation in this context.  Slovic looks to psychological studies to test the power of this effect in foreign life valuation and offers countering techniques.  Wexler uses the case study of the United States’ Atrocity Review Board to examine the interaction of international and domestic legal institutions with foreign valuation practices and psychological biases, again offering prescriptions to address the prominence effect.  Law professor David Dana expands the scope of the discussion beyond life valuation to protection of communities and cultures, and explores the role of psychological biases in directing policy decisions.  He suggests studies of domestic preferences as a first step to reallocating resources more appropriately.  Law professor Arden Rowell ties together the strands of the discussion on guidance and challenges for studying foreign life valuation, arguing that the current atheoretic and opaque approach is problematic.

2 thoughts on “Foreign Life Valuation

  1. Why should there be a discussion on how much value policymakers should place on foreign lives? The answer is simple: every life is equal, period. Also, who are policymakers, or academics, to even begin to posit the question that foreign lives are of lesser value or importance than the lives of domestic persons? You as people and as professors should not forget that the lives of foreigners are of no less value than your own.

    • Though your concern is understandable, it is worth reading both the Rowell and Wexler article and the symposium before jumping to conclusions. Their central point is that foreign lives are currently not being valued in domestic policy-making, or any valuation that is happening is opaque and atheorized/unprincipled. The Valuing Foreign Lives article is an attempt to draw attention to and begin offering solutions to this important and complicated problem; the symposium takes that effort a step further by working through different aspects of their theory as applied to different case studies or from a different academic discipline. This is not, as you suggest, an argument that the lives of foreigners are less valuable than the lives of citizens; in fact, it’s quite the opposite.

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