Markets in everything

Reading: I’ve got debts, please buy my kidneys” The Times September 27th 2009

Discussion question: What are some different ways in which we could allocate kidneys?

In April 2021 a New Jersey man sued the federal government for the right to sell his own kidneys:

“If the opportunity existed so that I could help out someone in need while helping myself, I might do it,” Bellocchio said.

Bellocchio argues that kidney transplants are low-risk procedures, and notes that you can donate an organ — even though you can’t sell one.

“Altruistic donors are lauded for their selflessness. Their vital role in saving lives is undeniable,” the court papers say.

“However, demand outstrips supply, and there is no valid constitutional or public policy rationale why one should not be able to receive a profit from such a transaction.”

Further reading: Postrel, V., “Here’s Looking at You, Kidney” Texas Monthly, June 2006

Consider the case of sulphur dioxide emissions (via McMillan, J., (2002) Reinventing the Bazaar, W.W. Norton & Co. (p.182-187) link ), and notice how for many environmental activists the moral objections to trading rights to pollute seemingly outweighed the dramatic progress on reducing harmful pollution. This implies that switching people’s mindset to tolerate market mechanisms could be an incredibly powerful tool to improve the world around us.

Learning Objectives: Understand the scope and ethical boundaries of markets

Focus on diversity: Virginia Postrel’s decision to donate a kidney, and write about it, provides a personal and inspirational view of the topic.