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Economic Aspects of Genocides, Other Mass Atrocities, and Their Preventions$
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Charles H. Anderton and Jurgen Brauer

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780199378296

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199378296.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 18 April 2021

Valuing Lives You Might Save

Valuing Lives You Might Save

Understanding Psychic Numbing in the Face of Genocide

(p.613) 26 Valuing Lives You Might Save
Economic Aspects of Genocides, Other Mass Atrocities, and Their Preventions

Paul Slovic

Daniel Västfjäll

Robin Gregory

Kimberly G. Olson

Oxford University Press

Why do governments fail to intervene to prevent genocide and other mass atrocities? We examine this question with reference to prospect theory, one of the foundations of behavioral economics. When people rely on their moral intuitions, they behave according to prospect theory’s value function, which implies that the importance of protecting an individual life diminishes as the number of lives at risk increases. In some cases, intuitive valuation of the collective threat may actually decrease as the number of lives at risk increases, which undoubtedly contributes to failures to respond aggressively to mass atrocities. Understanding this failing of moral intuition should help to inform the development of new institutional mechanisms concerned with atrocity prevention. Such new mechanisms are necessary to force us to pursue the hard measures needed to combat massive human rights abuses. Accordingly, we propose several policy recommendations and institutional designs to improve international decision-making in this arena.

Keywords:   valuing lives, psychic numbing, compassion fade, prominence effect, genocide prevention

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