Today’s Trivia Question: What is a day in the life of a king worth, described in terms of days in the life of a prisoner? Show your work.
Answer found here in The Cambist and Lord Iron, by Daniel Abraham. (Or here if you don’t feel like reading!)
So, I agree with the guys at the Freakonomics blog:
. . . The story fell apart after that first answer.
Hmm. I’ve seen that response before, but I still don’t actually see where the disagreement with the third question comes in. What’s the cost of a soul? There’s no worth of “a soul” in general because everyone 1) Automatically gets one, and 2) No one needs two of them. So the question (at least for Lord Iron) is more properly “what’s the cost of a soul good enough to get me into heaven.”
Obviously there is no open market on souls — which means you can’t trade for a replacement from someone who’s skilled at making souls nice and shiny again, so the cost of a soul is going to differ for each person based upon their ability to acquire a soul in good condition and how they value the acts they must give up to do so.
For Lord Iron, his soul in its current form was worth, essentially, nothing. He couldn’t pull a Faust, because the devil already owned it. So what’s the cost of obtaining a soul that will get him into heaven? Answer: a life without any of the vices he previously indulged in. Which is pretty much the answer the book comes to.
For the second question, I was bothered at first too — but Olaf does essentially re-write the terms of the question. It’s not “how many days of your life would you trade to live a day as a king.” Its “how much value does the king put into each particular day of his life compared with how much a prisoner values each day of his own life.”
It reminds me a lot of Becker’s ideas on suicide. People claim to value their life infinitely, but they obviously don’t — or else they’d never smoke, drive without a seat belt, eat anything but perfectly healthy food, etc. So if you want to know how much a day in anyone’s life is worth, look at the choices they make that could potentially shorten their lives, and derive the value of one day of life from the value of the activities people engage in that shorten their lives.