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The “I”s Have It

In a comment on this EconLog post, David Henderson makes an excellent point that I’d never quite thought of in the way that David expressed it.  Here’s David’s comment in full; it is in response to an earlier comment, on the same post, by Thomas Hutcheson; in italics are Hutcheson’s words while in normal font are Davids:

@Thomas Hutcheson,
I think that the ability to choose among any drugs that a firm may non-fraudulently sell me is very possibly one of those classes.
Again, and others might find this interesting too, notice what Ken MacDonald and I both noticed and remarked on: Hutcheson’s emphasis on “me.”
What makes this particularly ironic is that it is so often libertarians who get accused of caring only about themselves.

My favorite example of the selfishness of those who blithely turn to the state to satisfy their personal preferences is an often-heard protest of those who oppose liberalizing the market in transplantable body organs.  This protest goes something like the following: ‘I don’t want to live in a society where people can buy and sell their body organs for profit on a market!’

When I was in law school at the University of Virginia a quarter-century ago, I would often ask my fellow students their opinions of a liberalized body-organ market.  The ‘I-just-don’t-want-to-live-in-such-a-society’ protest was the single most common objection to such a liberalized market.

I believed then, and I believe now, that such an attitude is deeply immoral: in order to avoid the mere knowledge that stranger Smith might voluntarily sell, say, a kidney for profit, and that stranger Jones might voluntarily buy that kidney, many people are willing to let Jones literally suffer and die unnecessarily (and to deny Smith the opportunity to earn a profit).  But I didn’t quite see until I read David’s comment how this common attitude reveals the profound error of those who accuse libertarians of being apologists for greed.

What can be more greedy than for someone to use the force of the state to prevent other adults from engaging in what for them are mutually advantageous, life-saving exchanges simply to ensure that that someone’s aesthetic sensibilities aren’t disturbed or ruffled by the mere knowledge that somewhere, out of sight of that selfish someone, such exchanges might occur?  No amount of market-directed greed for money or for material goods can possibly match such greed as is boasted of (!) by many of the people who oppose liberalizing the market for transplantable body organs.