Friday, May 28, 2010

Two rights being wrong and organ donation.

Here is something that I found on Greg Mankiw's Blog. Adding an (unfortunately morbid) thought, I will say that it the sale of a dead relative's organs would be a great way for poor families to cover burdensome funeral expenses that can cause financial ruin.

Anyway, here is the article.

Users of my favorite textbook know that it includes, in Chapter 7, a case study on whether kidneys should be traded in a market. Today's NY Times has a related article.

The paper's so-called "Ethicist" is dealing with this situation:

1. Person A receives a kidney transplant as a donation from person B.
2. A short time later, person B is having financial troubles and her home may go into foreclosure. Person A is considering giving her some money to help out.

So what does the "Ethicist" say about all this? Apparently, both of these gifts are noble acts, worthy of the highest praise and admiration. Unless, that is, there is some reason to think they are linked together. In that case, the reallocation of resources (kidney, cash) would be a despicable market transaction.

I suspect that few economists would concur. Indeed, the essence of market transactions is a kind of reciprocal altruism, enforced by contract. It might be nice if the world could work using pure altruism alone, but that seems highly unrealistic. The sad truth is that under the Ethicist's code of conduct, we have more deaths and more foreclosures than necessary, all in the name of fairness.

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