I'll Take "The Price of a Life" for $500, Alex!

You don't need me to tell you that things are getting more expensive. All you have to do is look around. Gas prices have jumped again. Movie tickets cost almost as much as the bucket of popcorn you'll eat during the coming attractions. Even a cup of coffee at Starbucks just went up a dime, which makes it ounce for ounce more expensive than beer, soda, or even that gasoline you just agreed cost too much. We should be used to it by now. After all, the only time prices go down is when something's outdated, out of style, or out of stock. Of course there are people who never resign themselves to increased prices, like my father, who's chronically outraged that bread doesn't still cost a nickel. Of course, he may be a bad example since he has yet to comes to grips with the fact that the Dodgers aren't returning to Brooklyn, Adlai Stevenson lost, and his chances of being a grandfather are somewhere between nil and none.In their never-ending quest to cheer us up, the federal government (Official Motto: "What's Yours Is Ours") keeps track of how expensive things are by way of the Consumer Price Index Market Basket, which really should have its name shortened to "Too Damned Much." To calculate this, they first give people our hard earned tax dollars to go shopping and report back with how much selected items cost. Why they don't just have us mail them our store receipts is, well, okay -- this is the federal government we're talking about. Sorry, I forgot. Among the items they keep track of are cookies, cheese, shirts, computers, used cars, airplane tickets, and haircuts. Once they have the raw data they plug it into their computers, pore over the results, then call the Psychic Friends Hotline and sit around trying to figure out why they didn't get the phone sex operator they usually get. At their salaries you'd think they'd know the difference between the number 800 and 900.All this isn't to say there aren't plenty of bargains out there to be had. Postage is a deal and a half. Gripe all you want, I think it's a miracle that for 20 cents I can take a postcard of an alligator pulling down a woman's bathing suit and drop it in some blue metal box on a street corner in Florida and a few days later have a mail carrier all the way in Alaska pull an AK-47 from his bag and hold his supervisor hostage. Now that's a bargain even Wal-Mart would have trouble matching.Mothers, it turns out, are a bargain too. According to a study by Edelman Financial Services, Inc. of Fairfax, Virginia, (Official Motto: "We Never Heard of Us Either") a stay-at-home mother should be paid $508,700 a year in compensation for the work she does. They based this on how badly they wanted to suck up to their mothers to ensure that they don't get cut out of the will. Then, since they had to rationalize it—not to mention get their name in the newspaper since Edelman Financial Services isn't exactly what you'd call a household name like, say, Household Finance—they claimed mothers deserve all this money because they perform the job functions of 17 different occupations, including executive chef, animal caretaker, psychologist, bus driver, registered nurse, and dominatrix. Just kidding about the dominatrix. That would have been included except they didn't count Joan Crawford as a stay-at-home mother.Something tells me even Edelman himself isn't paying his wife or mother $9783 a week. But that doesn't mean he doesn't appreciate her. In some countries, like say Germany, they may not be leaving this up to chance anymore. It may be the law. The Green Party (Official Motto: "It Ain't Easy Being Green") is demanding that men be legally required to do an equal share of the housework. Granted, there's already a law in Germany that men have to help cook, clean, and do the laundry, but apparently they forgot to specify just how much has to be done and, men being men, they keep figuring that taking a shower once a week, licking their fingers after dinner, and wiping their nose on their sleeve count.So lets say a mother spends 18 years staying at home raising a child. Does that mean she's worth the $9.2 million she didn't get paid? Putting a value on human life has always been a tricky question. I remember hearing in school that the actual chemicals that make up our body are only worth about 97 cents (plus applicable sales tax, dealer prep, and delivery charges). Then there are the people who argue that you can't put a price on a human life, but they usually say that because they want to pass yet another law trying to protect us from ourselves.Well forget all that. Finally we can set a definitive price on human life, and it turns out to be a pretty good one at that. The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the spiritual leader who had his fifteen minutes during the late 60's, has come to our rescue by offering to send meditators to each of 60 American cities so they can wipe out crime. And he says he'll do this for the low, low price of $200 million per city. Figuring that in 1997 there were 18,209 people murdered in the U.S., that means we'd be spending a rock bottom $659,014 per life to save those potential victims. That's what I call a deal. So now that we know that a human life is worth $659,014, where do we get the $12 billion we need to hire the Maharishi and get this thing rolling? We could raise taxes. We could make our coffee at home and put the money we didn't spend at Starbucks into a mayonnaise jar labeled "Save Our Cities". Or we could just get someone to walk behind Bill Gates and pick it up as it drops out of his pocket. But whatever we do we'd better do it quick—like everything else, the cost of a life is only going to go up.

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