Repugnant markets

Via Market Design, some abstracts from a researcher who specialises in the economics of ‘repugnant markets’:

Altruism and Intermediation in the Market for Babies:

Central to every legal system is the principle that certain items are off-limits to commercial exchange. In theory, babies are one such sacred object. This supposed ban on baby selling has been lamented by those who view commercial markets as the most efficient means of allocating resources, and defended by those who contend that commercial markets in parental rights commodify human beings, compromise individual dignity, or jeopardize fundamental values. However, the supposed and much-discussed baby selling ban does not, and is not intended to, eliminate commercial transactions in children. Instead, it is an asymmetric legal restriction that limits the ability of baby market suppliers to share in the full profits generated by their reproductive labor, insisting instead that they derive a large portion of their compensation from the utility associated with altruistic donation. Meanwhile, a wide range of baby market intermediaries profit handsomely in the baby market, without similar restrictions on their market activities. Baby selling “bans” thus have more in common with the rent-seeking by powerful marketplace actors seen in other commercial markets than with normative statements about the sanctity of human life. The author concludes with a call for the removal of the last vestiges of the “ban” against baby selling and other laws that diminish the capacity of baby market suppliers to access the marketplace.

Sunny Samaritans and Egomaniacs: Price-Fixing in the Gamete Market :

This Article considers the market structure of the human egg (or “oocyte”) donation business, particularly the presence of anti-competitive behavior by the fertility industry, including horizontal price-fixing of the type long considered per se illegal in other industries. The Article explores why this attempted collusion has failed to generate the same public and regulatory concern prompted by similar behavior in other industries, arguing that the persistent dialogue of gift-giving and altruistic donation obscures both the highly commercial nature of egg “donation” and the benefits to the fertility industry of controlling the price of a necessary input into many fertility services – namely, eggs. A comparison to the egg market’s closest cousin – the sperm market – does not reveal similar collusive attempts to depress the price of sperm. A further analysis of the industry explores potential reasons for this difference.

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One Response to “Repugnant markets”

  1. Legal Eagle Says:

    I was horrified by Posner in first year uni, but once one gets past that initial repugnance, you can see that there are potentially markets in a such things. The thing is that as the author says, these things do have a value and are exchanged, it’s just that they are exchanged in limited or highly regulated ways (depending upon the country you live in, of course).

    Such questions are very interesting to me (as a lawyer) because it involves querying whether children or gametes or whatever can be a commodity (or even property).

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