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[Opinion] Is Freedom Worth One Billion Dollars?

Posted September. 10, 2007 07:48,   


We often subject ourselves to matters of life and death, although we must admit that the value of human life is invaluable. High-rise buildings and bridge construction fall under the heading of such matters.

It is not unusual for some workers to pass away due to accidents or negligence. Indemnities are granted but they can be comparable to the economic loss related to future income, not the value of life itself. Economists have long been struggling to come up with a method to convert such non-economic factors as life to money.

There is a saying that “time is money.” Actually, we can buy or sell time with money. In other countries, amusement parks sell priority tickets, with which people need not queue up to take rides. In this case, “the value of convenience that people need not queue up” equals to “the amount that people are willing to pay to enjoy such a convenience,” economists say.

A similar calculation logic is applicable to life. The value of one’s life can be evaluated as “the amount of expense he or she is willing to spend in accident prevention × the probability of the accident.”

The Financial Times recently reported about the verdict delivered by an appellate court on an appeal by Hyundai-Kia Motors Chairman Chung Mong-koo, with the title: “Freedom Worth One Billion Dollars.” The story is a cynical review over the absurdity of the situation of Chung, who was involved in raising slush funds and transferring some stocks to his children through fishy methods. He got his sentence suspended on the condition that he should return 840 billion won (approximately $1 billion) to society. Considering Hyundai Motors employees’ relieved looks and the business community’s supportive statements after the judgment, Chung’s freedom may seem worth more than one billion dollars.

However, overseas news sources, including the Wall Street Journal, criticized, “It was confirmed that the Korean judiciary is lenient to white-collar crimes.”

An arduous wave of globalization is hard to hurdle with illegal management. Due to concerns over this, the judiciary branch said exceptionally, “We interviewed guests in restaurants and taxi drivers on whether to sentence Chung to jail.”

Hyundai Motors and business circles as well as Chung have hopefully learned from the judgment a “lesson worth one billion dollars.”

Huh Seung-ho, Editorial Writer, tigera@donga.com