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Imposing Indeed

Now it seems that the offering of options to people is now morally questionable, and perhaps even exploited:

“This means that even if you have no possessions to sell and cannot find a job, nobody can reasonably criticise you for, say, failing to sell a kidney to pay your rent. If a free market in organs was permitted and became widespread, then it is reasonable to assume that your organs would soon enough become economic resources like any other, in the context of the market. Selling your organs would become something that is simply expected of you as and when financial need arises. … 

We should ask questions such as the following: Would those in poverty be eligible for bankruptcy protection, or for public assistance, if they have an organ that they choose not to sell? Could they be legally forced to sell an organ to pay taxes, paternity bills or rent? How would society view someone who asks for charitable assistance to meet her basic needs, if she could easily sell a healthy ‘excess’ organ to meet them? … Wherever there is great value in not being put under social or legal pressure to sell something as a result of economic forces, we should think carefully about whether it is right to permit a market and to thereby impose the option on everyone to sell it

The author is indeed right to ask those questions, and the very government folks wish to use to prevent organ sales (successfully today?) ought to be “powerful” enough to make sure bankruptcy courts, for example, don’t consider organs liquid assets.

But let’s not argue about kidneys, or forcing the poor to sell them, today. We addressed this in part way back in the day. Instead, focus on the implications, again, of this philosophy when placed in conjunction with others.

  1. Markets are exploitive and immoral because they shut out the poor from consuming many goods. In other words, the “poor get poorer” at the expense of the rich. The are also immoral because markets are prone to monopoly and people are forced to do business with only one supplier. Workers are exploited because firms exercise enormous control over them.
  2. Markets are exploitive and immoral because they force people to have choices. In other words, on the firm side, we’ve seen the “paradox of choice” where we are inundated with so many options that we are now exploited? And in this case, we are given so many options about how to earn income that by adding one more option we are now exploited. 

I simply don’t understand how these and so many other views can be held at the same time. But that’s because I used to expect folks used reason and logic to form their ideas. But I am wrong. We are mystics, plain and simple. We’re a bit more sophisticated than the mystics of the past, but mystics nonetheless.

By the way, if we had a truly free market in organs, you might expect that the price of the actual kidney itself (I recall a Becker paper putting it at $15,000) to fall so much that selling it really isn’t on the high priority list, even for the most cash strapped among us. But ignore that too, it’s too easy to conjure up images of people being held down by debt collectors only to have their kidneys forcefully ripped out and sold on eBay. 

One Response to “Imposing Indeed”

  1. Harry says:

    WC referred to the common notion that markets are prone to monopoly. We understand this is not WC’s notion. WC raises an interesting question.

    Take economics 101, or any American history course that gets to the Trust Busters, and we are taught that monopoly is the major concern of human existence. Greedy cigar smoking capitalists lurk in everywhere to exploit consumers, who lack sophistication enough to make any and all choices when spending their money, especially when they have little money to spend. Unfettered, the profiteers will overcharge. The difference between the monopoly price and the price in a platonic state of perfect competition is wide, and invites the intervention of a professional government economic expert who can quantify that margin.

    It also justifies the intervention of government lawyers to get involved, to chastise and punish the monopolists, just like Teddy Rooseveldt.

    Yes, this is a complicated economic and philosophical problem, but where has there been trouble in a free market? Hardly anywhere. Near-monopolies exist where government intervenes, to protect the politically connected, like teachers, who have gouged the consumer and others far more than any oil company.

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