May 4, 2020 – How much is a human life worth? Individuals, families, companies, and governments routinely place a price on human life. The calculations that underlie these price tags are often buried in technical language, yet they influence our economy, laws, behaviors, policies, health, and safety. 

These price tags are often unfair, infused as they are with gender, racial, national, and cultural biases that often result in valuing the lives of the young more than the old, the rich more than the poor, whites more than blacks, Americans more than foreigners, and relatives more than strangers. This is critical since undervalued lives are left less-protected and more exposed to risk.

Howard Steven Friedman explains in simple terms how economists and data scientists at corporations, regulatory agencies, and insurance companies develop and use these price tags and points a spotlight at their logical flaws and limitations. He then forcefully argues against the rampant unfairness in the system. Readers will be enlightened, shocked, and, ultimately, empowered to confront the price tags we assign to human lives and understand why such calculations matter.

Howard Steven Friedman, a leading statistician and health economist, is an expert in data science and applications of cost-benefit analysis. He teaches at Columbia University.


“Timely — and, frankly, sometimes shocking. . . . Ultimate Price exposes a system rife with troubling assumptions and inequality that reduces each human to a data point. Well-written and readable, the book avoids being overly academic while still presenting a meticulously researched argument of why we all should take the time to understand how our own lives are priced.”


“A timely and valuable study of how society values individual lives.  Friedman gets to the heart of society priorities.  Indispensable reading.”—Kenneth R. Feinberg, Former Administrator of the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund.

“What is a human life worth? That question seems repugnant. The answers that society gives are often unfair and irrational. But our justice system, environmental regulations, product safety, life insurance, health care, and abortion decisions demand answers. This gripping book is essential reading on a topic that you’d like to avoid but can’t.”—Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and other best-selling books.

“This well-written book does an exemplary job of explaining the thorny issues of how life is valued.”—Paul W. Thurman, DBA, Professor of Management and Analytics 

“This book will find a ready audience among educated lay persons interested in how to put an economic value on life.”—Kim Sweeny, Victoria University

Ultimate Price The Value We Place on Life