Monday, February 1, 2010



By : Mrs. Zelda B. Wertheimer, Wife of Joseph G. Wertheimer, Founder, Wertheimer Industrial Plastics & Enamels Co., Inc. Owner, 2500 Acres assorted real estate in four countries; Resident, 237 Park Avenue, New York, NY; Member, Director's Guild, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

February 1, 2010

Dear Sir,

As a New Yorker and a humanitarian, I wish to complain about several new print advertisements you recently published around the metropolitan area. Although your safety advisements and commercial messages rarely arouse my indignation, your recent admonishment to subway riders: "Whatever falls on the tracks is not as valuable as you" is simply shocking. I speak for all New Yorkers when I say that your message is offensive.

I understand that the MTA wishes to protect its customers from train accidents. I also understand that train accidents are more likely when customers step off the platform onto the tracks. Further, I understand that some customers might disregard their own safety if they drop something onto the tracks, such as an iPod or other relatively expensive object. The MTA has a right to warn people not to risk their lives to save a piece of personal property. Additionally, the MTA has an interest in avoiding litigation arising from train/customer collisions.

I do not dispute the MTA's financial reasoning in this matter: No one likes lawsuits and no one likes paying money when they don't have to. But there are other considerations in the world. It might be prudent and even financially advisable to publish a poster warning people not to enter the subway tracks. Still, the MTA's message in this case is both philosophically unsound and in poor taste. In the name of decency and community values, I insist that the MTA remove these posters at once.

It is wrong for the MTA to suggest that "whatever falls on the tracks is not as valuable" as the person who dropped it. Although the MTA might think that its message esteems human equality and the importance of life over property, it is philosophically unsound because there are so many applications in which the message is not true. Popularly, people might believe that no object is worth more than a human life. But experience reveals that this is rubbish. Put simply, value depends on a comparison between how much the object is worth and how much the person is worth. No matter what our mothers told us when we were children, people's value can be expressed in dollar amounts. Insurance companies tell us how much we are worth all the time. Our portfolios define our monetary values. Courts tell loved ones how much their deceased family members "would have made" if they had lived. In a word, people are worth a number: And if the object they drop on the tracks is worth more than that number, then the MTA's "human value" message is totally untrue.

Consider the principle in action. Let us say that an impecunious, smelly beggar has a $40 faux diamond ring in his pocket. Let us further say that this beggar has no money, no savings, no real estate, no bonds, no stocks, no accounts, no chattel paper and no right to receive payment from any investment. He has no job; no one wants to be in a room with him, let alone hire him. In a word, this hideous, stinking beggar is literally not worth a cent. His "value" is zero. In these circumstances, if he drops the $40 ring on the tracks, he is actually less valuable than the object he dropped. If a train runs him over as he scampers to recover the ring, the MTA's "message" does not apply: The object he dropped was actually more valuable than he was: A $40 faux diamond ring is worth more than a $0 beggar. A third-grader could do the math on it.

Of course, that is a simple example. Most people are worth more than a beggar. But again, it is difficult to calculate human value. After all, a fresh-faced 30-year-old graduate with $150,000 in education debt is actually worth less than a $0 beggar even if the graduate has $4000 in the bank and a $10,000 stock fund. In that situation, appearances are misleading. Debt negatively impacts worth. Thus, the graduate is actually worth -$136,000. In this situation, if the graduate dropped even a quarter on the tracks, he would be worth $135,999.25 less than the object he dropped. Once again, the MTA's reasoning fails completely: A debt-riddled person is worth much less than even a modest object on the tracks. Any "positive" value is greater than any "negative" value: And debtors are "negative values."

I find it tasteless for the MTA to suggest that human beings are intrinsically more valuable than property. As the above examples illustrate, property is in many cases much more valuable than people. Many people will disagree with that assertion. But experience proves it true. A beggar's life is nothing compared to a $4,000,000 townhome, just as a debt-riddled graduate is nothing compared to a custom car. And what about criminals? Does the MTA suggest that a convicted rapist is somehow more valuable than an original Van Gogh? If a criminal dropped a Van Gogh on the tracks, does it honestly contend that the criminal is "more valuable" than this classic object of Western Art? I should certainly hope not. The bottom line is: Property is worth more than individual human beings.

But not always. When wealthy people hold comparatively less valuable objects, then people are more valuable than property. For example, if I were standing on a subway platform and I dropped my iPod on the tracks, I should refrain from scurrying after it because I am worth much, much more than the $250 iPod. I have extensive savings, accounts, real estate holdings and cash. My assets greatly exceed my debts. My net worth, therefore, is considerably higher than the object I dropped, so in this case the MTA's message is true: I am worth more than my iPod, so why risk myself to fetch it?

Still, these inconsistent results provide further proof that the MTA's message is incorrect. Messages must be philosophically sound. They must apply consistently no matter the subject matter. Yet even a cursory glance at the MTA's message here shows that it does not apply in many situations.

Finally, I find it utterly tasteless that the MTA believes in life over property. It is hypocritical for any governmental institution in this country to assert that human beings are worth more than valuable objects or land. We do not live in this country to spiritually enrich our fellow men; we live in this country to amass more property. There is simply no merit to the contention that life is about human worth. Simple commercial experience contradicts that contention at every turn. Men only have "worth" to the extent that they can expend labor and capital to amass even more property. Beyond that, there is no "intrinsic worth" in men worth protecting.

Legal doctrines and public messages that advocate life over property are indefensible. It makes no sense to sing odes to human life, as the common law does when it says that it is never permissible to kill someone to guard property. This is just ludicrous. If a person worth $0 tries to steal my art collection worth $45,000, there is no debate about which one is more valuable. What incentive would enterprising people have to amass property if they could not defend it against those without it?

Additionally, the law sends completely mixed messages in this regard. If it is so wrong to kill someone to protect property, why does the law not hesitate to heap supplementary punishments on thieves depending on the value of the objects they steal? Does that not show that our society finds it more wrong to steal something worth more than to steal something worth little?

Put simply, we put dollar amounts on both people and things in our society. Some things--and some people--are worth more than others. In that sense, the MTA grossly misunderstands what is really important in life. It is both philosophically unsound and tasteless for the MTA to suggest that all life is more valuable than all property.

Mr. Commissioner, I demand that you remove these hypocritical messages from our streets. It is time to educate our citizens about real worth, not delude them with foolishness about equality.

Yours very sincerely and truly,

Mrs. Zelda B. Wertheimer

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