For those of you in the Bay Area, today (Sunday) at 9:00am PST, Adam C. Smith will discuss the new book that he wrote with his grandfather Bruce Yandle, entitled Bootleggers and Baptists: How Economic Forces and Moral Persuasion Interact to Shape Regulatory Politics , on The Bob Zadek Show. You can catch it on radio station 910AM .
Think about how America has freaked out about the nonexistent threat from Ebola. Now imagine that a Boeing jet carry [sic] 210 passengers crashed once a week as a result of terrorism. [Each week in the U.S., the shortage of transplantable human kidneys causes an estimated 210 people either to die or to become too ill for transplants.] How much money would we spend beefing up airport security?
At this point people tell me that I’m just an unimaginative utilitarian. There are other issues at stake; human dignity, natural rights, etc., etc. OK, let’s return to the one Boeing a week crashes hypothesis. What sort of indignities would Americans meekly put up with at airports in that case? How many “natural rights” would they give up in a heartbeat? The truth is that human dignity and natural rights don’t explain our lack of a kidney market, it’s ignorance on the part of the public. If they understood the gains they’d accept the market immediately, even if they had to accept these costs. Just as they’d accept tighter airport security, at a cost of freedom and dignity, if terrorism got that bad.
Another problem is “cognitive illusions.” People are hardwired (or taught?) to think that money taints certain types of transactions, but not others. Other bloggers have explained this problem much better than I can. My point here is that these cognitive illusions (smokers deserve to pay for their sins, drug users deserve to be put in prison, money taints transactions, etc) are not costless. Indeed they create some of the very worst evils in our society.
On this general topic of useful and humane markets being squelched by superstition and economic ignorance (often mixed with more than a dash of interest-group greed), my vanity compels me to link to this 1995 article of mine calling for a liberalized market in infant adoptions .
Finally, apropos nothing: I love this picture of the Beatles .