Homo uneconomicus

Natasha Moore on Matt Damon, the 2021 Federal Budget, and how (and why) our view of the human person is profoundly uneconomical.

How much (fictional) money has been spent rescuing Matt Damon from remote places?

A few years ago, one guy on the internet decided to do the maths.
Saving Private Ryan: an estimated $100k to send a search party into WWII Europe.

Syriana: $50k for a private security return flight from the Middle East. Courage Under Fire: $300k. There are more; Matt Damon, it turns out, has had to be rescued a *lot*.

Naturally, when we get to the space movies, the costs spike. Interstellar: perhaps $500 billion to fetch Matt from space. The Martian? A more modest $200 billion.

The grand total: $900 billion plus change. This is how much we love Matt Damon.

Insurance companies, of course, put a price tag on human life all the time. But actually, we work hard in all kinds of ways not to trade off time and money against human life. The 2018 Thai cave rescue cost half a million dollars, Google tells me. The search for MH370 consumed a total of 1,046 days and around $200 million in quest of the vanished plane.

Our view of the human person is profoundly uneconomical. However fragile and imperfectly realised, that’s still the thing I’m most proud of our culture for. And it’s an open secret (read secular scholars like Tom Holland or Larry Siedentop) that the reason behind it is because we once collectively became convinced that in dealing with another human – any human – we were dealing with an “image” of God.

Tonight is budget night, and yes, finite resources, fiscal responsibility, balancing the budget, etc etc. But however complex and contested the details, at the heart of our wrestling over spending lies the assumption that each and every human is of value. The economy was made for us, not we for the economy.