Essays in Honor of Keith B. Griffin
Edited by James K. Boyce, Stephen Cullenberg, Prasanta K. Pattanaik and Robert Pollin
Chapter 7: Death and Development
* Bob Sutcliffe Tragedy and statistics A noted twentieth-century tyrant once allegedly remarked that ‘a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic’. As far as is known, the author of this remark never killed anyone with his own hands; he was however responsible for many statistics. This chapter is a synthetic description and discussion, from the point of view of those who study development, of death – both as a statistic and as a tragedy. My aims are to summarize and assess important recent data about mortality and life expectancy, to discuss the ways in which it is and can be used as an indicator of egalitarian development, to comment on two contemporary crises of mortality and to make some general suggestions about some future tasks for social scientists on these questions. There can be few things which have more effect on the quality of people’s lives than the time and the way in which they and other members of their society die. What we know about death reveals a great deal about not only the quantity but also the quality of life. If, unlike Joseph Stalin, we can discern the tragedies behind the statistics then perhaps we can contribute something to the pursuit of human development. During 1999 the number of human beings crossed the 6000 million mark. This has been tentatively ‘guesstimated’ as being about 6 per cent of the members of our species who have ever been alive (Haub, 1995). About 1 percent of them,...
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