Poor Reasoning
September 28, 2011 Price System

I’ve commonly encountered arguments for regulating various markets that sound like, “well, if you allowed for a market, then the poor wouldn’t be able to afford it.” That’s certainly true. This thought is not about rationing devices and the poor in general, but rather it is asking a simple consistency question.

The most common market I see this defense used is in health care markets, especially when I ask students to write papers on whether “we” should legalize the sale of organs. There is no right answer of course. But this question arises: sure, the poor have a hard time purchasing kidneys on an open market (btw: I argue that it is even worse for them under the current regime, but that is not germane), but why do you wish to ban the use of markets in kidneys, but are perfectly OK with employing market forces to deliver food, shelter clothing and other important goods and services? It cannot be that having access to kidneys is ipso facto more important that eating.

It is not trite to remind folks that wrecking markets to alleviate poverty is unwise. If folks have low income, then the way to deal with that is outside the market mechanism, not within it. And yes, we can have the debate about which systems end up delivering the goods for the poor. I happen to believe the evidence is just a wee-bit tilted in favor of markets.

"6" Comments
  1. As I noted in my 108 paper many years ago (2), even if sales of kidneys were legalized, low-income patients would still have cadavers as a source of kidney donations, but the waiting list would be significantly shorter since middle and high-income patients would likely opt to purchase a kidney rather than wait for a cadaver’s.

  2. I imagine one could have a menu for various body parts. A limb might be $10,000, a heart $20,000, and kidneys would be “market price.” You’d get your choice of a baked potato, salad, or vegetable with that.

    On a more serious note, it seems that one of the main objections to a free market for kidneys and other body parts is that the poor might be inclined to sell a kidney for financial reasons and thereby be exploited in the Marxist sense of the word.

    One of the great things about kidneys is you have two of them, one to spare and one to live on. One can also donate tissues like bone marrow without sacrificing one’s life. I don’t see why it’s bad to allow a poor person to be paid some real money for body parts that don’t require one to sacrifice his life.

    Now, in the movie Apocalypto, the Mayans felt free to levy a per capita tax on the jungle people in order to please the Sun God. Post hoc ergo propter hoc: all those heads brought about the temporary demise of the Sun God and then allowed a pleased god to return to life. Real hope and change.

  3. Pffft I’m not “poor” and I would sell my kidney for $20,000+ tomorrow, if I had the chance. I’ll bank on future technology, when they can just grow me a new one in a petri dish. The question is how much will that cost in the future…. Alright, I might need $40,000.

  4. You might want to ask those making such arguments to provide some examples of when eliminating a market, or preventing its existence, created more favorable conditions for the “poor”. I’d be interested in any such examples. And its not as if we don’t have plenty of examples of markets being eliminated in the name of alleviating poverty. I can give them plenty of examples from my corner of the world.

  5. I love how many people think that when a business sells something for more than it cost the to produce it, they are “taking advantage” of customers, but the sale of a kidney, which costs nothing to produce, would not involve taking advantage of the customer who buys it.

  6. Currently there is a market for blood as well as charitable organizations that accept donations, like the Red Cross. Why can’t you have the same for other tissues and body parts?

    Me, I like the idea of having Adrienne Barbeaux giving Tom Selleck a few drugs to make him comatose in the movie, Coma. Especially when she leans over to put an IV into Selleck’s arm.

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