From the Editor

Determining the Worth of a Person

Michael L. Sherer

Michael L. Sherer

Does a stockbroker have more value than a janitor?

Kenneth Feinberg has an unenviable task. The Washington attorney has been named “special master” of a federal fund created to provide financial payments to survivors of more than 3,000 people who died in the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Feinberg has created a formula, on the basis of which he’ll dole out millions of dollars to families of those tragically killed. The payouts are expected to average $1.6 million. The fund is open-ended, which means the federal government won’t set a limit on how much can finally be paid out.

The difficulty is two-fold. Some family members are already complaining the cash they’ll receive is less than they thought they should get. How do you put a price on anguish?

There’s also the problem of deciding how much, exactly, each claim should be worth. According to Feinberg’s formula, the widow and two children of a 35-year-old stock trader earning $225,000 a year could receive $3.6 million, while the survivors of a 25-year-old single worker who had made $25,000 annually cleaning up after the stock trader, might get $1.17 million.

A moment of thoughtful reflection leads to an uncomfortable question. Is a portfolio manager really worth more than a janitor? In God’s economy, surely not.

We commonly measure people by their earning potential or their bank balance. By that standard, Bill Gates is worth more than everybody else. But is he really?

Even at Metro Lutheran, we struggle with which “notable Lutherans” to mention when death claims them. Some readers wonder why we run reports on the lives of people who were high-profile in the church, but fail to report on “ordinary Lutherans” who lived faithfully but without fanfare.

From a news standpoint, we justify reporting “notable Lutheran deaths.” But we know that, in reality, our value comes from God, not from our own effort or accomplishment. According to that criteria, perhaps we should be reimbursing the stock broker’s survivors the same as the janitor’s.