“Middle-class peeves cost more money than exists”

Via R.J. Lehmann (Mar. 27), here are some figures indicating that the sum total of the alleged costs of other people’s bad behavior may well exceed the total sum of money in existence. To be more specific: start by adding up the claimed health expenses, productivity losses and other social costs of such indulgences as alcohol ($185 billion a year, it’s said with spurious precision), overeating ($115 billion), gambling ($54 billion), and so forth. Then throw in categories such as the costs of crime, time wasted by employees visiting web sites and watching sports events, and so forth. By the time you’re done, Lehmann says, you can “come up with a grand total of $7.39 trillion – well in excess of the $6.70 trillion that actually exists” — at least if you’re willing to include a few dodgy entries in the catalog, such as taxes. (Thomas C. Greene, The Register (UK), Mar. 16).

It’s not hard to see the relevance of this line of logic to themes often dealt with in this space. In the utopia of the litigators we would succeed in charging the social costs of our overeating to the food business, the costs of our gambling to the casinos and lotteries that led us on, the costs of 9/11 to assorted banks, airlines, building owners and Saudi nabobs, the costs of street crime to deep-pocketed entities guilty of negligent security, and so on and so forth for the costs of auto accidents, pharmaceutical side effects, failure to learn in school, domestic violence, etc. It would not be surprising if the sum total of all the different injuries, insults and indignities dealt out to the human race, if monetized at the rates prescribed by advocates, handily exceeded the sum total of wealth on hand to pay, even were the whole wealth of the world placed at the courts’ disposal.

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