Is the Absolute Number of Deaths the Only Thing That Matters?
By David Henderson
Answer: It depends on the question we’re trying to answer.
In a post about Covid-19 deaths, Tyler Cowen writes:
By the way, deaths as a percentage of population isn’t the right metric here. Losing 320,000 lives (including excess deaths) has about the same moral import, whether or not there are a billion Morlocks living under the earth’s surface, though that fact would change the loss greatly as measured in percentage terms and of course make it look much smaller.
Let’s start with a question that absolute deaths is the relevant metric for.
A murderer in Andorra kills 10 people. A murderer in China kills 10 people. In each case the victims are innocent.
Question: Is the murderer in Andorra, who has killed a much higher percent of Andorra’s population, more evil than the murderer in China who has killed a much lower percent of China’s population?
So here’s where Tyler Cowen’s point is correct. And of course, to his credit, he makes clear that he’s talking about the moral point.
But let’s ask a different question: Which country do you want to live in if you know that there’s a murderer at large who plans to murder 10 people in that country? (Assume everything else about these countries is the same so that we can isolate the effect of the 10 murders.) Would you want to live in Andorra or in China?