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Quite literally almost every single person involved in college athletics/kidney donations gets paid except the very people who are generating the lion’s share of value in the first place. Tell me an argument in favor of banning kidney sales and then insert “college athlete” and see how that sounds. Of course, neither the athlete nor donor could realize the value of their “production” if they did not also rely on the cooperation of many, many others, but that is true of ANY action in our modern interconnected world.

When you see a kidney donor, ask them how they feel about their amateur status. Better yet, ask the hundred thousand people waiting for one what they think of their amateur status. When you see a college athlete, particularly in the revenue sports at schools that generate revenues, ask them if they get deep satisfaction in their morally superior “donor” status.

Here is my new policy preference. I used to advocate for legalizing kidneys and having competitive labor markets determine athlete pay. But that makes me some kind of horrific person. But let’s try this one on for size – if we REALLY believe in the morality of organ donation and if we really believe the concept of amateurism ever existed in sports (it did not even exist for ancient Greek Olympians, who were well paid for their services, and the origin of amateur sports in college was as much an effort to keep the lower classes away from tarnishing the sports that only the rich could afford to do) … but again, if you REALLY believe in amateurism and altruism in organ markets – then let’s get behind a law that bans ANY funds or compensation from exchanging hands for ANYONE who is in ANY way involved in the processes. So, transplant surgeons and nurses and anesthesiologists and bed-sheet makers and orderlies and insurance company workers and government insurance workers and organ donor network employees, and coaches and trainers and gym supervisors and gym issue room attendants, referees, and anyone else should all be required to do what they do for no pay. I will get on board with your programs when you actually take your own programs seriously.


2 Responses to “College Athletes are Kidneys”

  1. blink says:

    You draw a nice parallel, and certainly a real market would benefit each. Still, I see a couple of important differences. Athletics is primarily about the distribution of surplus, whereas organs are primarily about supply.

    First athletics. NCAA sports can make money, but it is pretty competitive. The beneficiaries are coaches for their recruitment power and name-brand schools for their reputations as powerhouses and the cachet from associating with them; for most schools, it looks much like a competitive market. Overall, then, paying athletes would probably reduce the supply and quality of football teams; as a fan, I benefit (slightly) from the conscripted labor and so probably have a (mild) selfish interest in maintaining the status quo despite its unfairness. Of course, for me and presumably for you, ethical qualms about the athletes not receive just desserts for their services purely do to regulation are first-order. These far outweigh other considerations.

    Now organs. Yes, like coaches, doctors and other medical professionals probably capture too much of the surplus, reaping benefits of “recruiting” donors or from helping their patience move up the waiting list. But these effects are second-order; far more important is that organs are severely under-supplied, not exactly the problem with athletics. One can object on social welfare grounds: Regulations are denying many patients better quality of life and often life itself.

    To be fair, the debate about organ supply permits at least one reasonable objection. It may be that donors motivated by altruistic warm-glow may provide high quality organs while money-motivated donors may have supply low quality organs. Possibly, introducing money would deprive the altruistic donors of this warm glow — I now think my donation valued “only” at the market price — and withdraw as donors. This would partially offset the gains from new donors. While I doubt this effect would be large, there is some evidence from blood donations suggesting that it is as least real, so we ought to consider it seriously here as well.

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