Me on RT America Soon

In a few hours I’ll appear on a news show on RT America, talking about organ sales. You can watch live here; here is the 5 minute video:

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  • IMASBA

    “Keeping poor people from selling things to help themselves doesn’t prevent poverty, it makes it worse.”

    Doubtful, prices have always been way too low for this. Donating an organ will leave you irreversibly weakened for the rest of your life and more vulnerable should something happen to your remaining organs (unlike money organs cannot be replaced and unlike a family heirloom watch their value is not just emotional), not to mention the possibility of (fatal) complications during the extraction. Prices would have to be much, much higher than they are to make up for these disadvantages and the fact that the receiver can increase their own productivity and health (both forms of wealth) exponentially because they become physically stronger and because they are already in a position to make more money. Finally there’s the possibility that allowing poor people to sell organs might make their plight seem less worse in the short term, reducing the incentive of governments and overall society to do something about the root causes of poverty. Of course selling hair or semen is different, there are no rational reasons to outlaw that.

    • Robert Koslover

      IMASBA, I respectfully disagree. I prefer to grant poor people the freedom to make their own decisions, while you believe that you are better informed/qualified to make such decisions for them (much as if you are their parent, and they are your children). You also appeal to government to act as their parents. Also, I have no doubt that I cannot persuade you to accept my position, and that you will not persuade me to accept yours. For our difference in views is a fundamental one — it is the difference between libertarians and authoritarians. Libertarians trust adult individuals to make their own decisions, for better or worse. Authoritarians prefer to tell others what to do. Please note that I do not mean this as an insult, but imply as an observation.

      • VV

        The issue is not as simple as the liberalists make it.

        If two rational agents accept to make a trade, then that makes them locally better off, but this doesn’t imply that a society which allows such kind of trades is necessarily better for both of them.

        Consider wages, for instance:

        Average Joe is willing to accept a given job at MegaCorp Inc. at any wage >= X, while MegaCorp would find it profitable to hire him at any wage <= Y, with X < Y.

        For most jobs, especially the low paying ones, the employer has much more bargaining power than the employee, thus if they are allowed to bargain freely, they will settle at a wage equal or very close to X. But if the government sets a minimum wage M, then, as long as X < M < Y, Joe and MegaCorp will settle the bargain at M. Regulation has made Joe better off (at expense of MegaCorp) by reducing his freedom.

        Similar arguments apply to workplace safety regulations, product safety and quality regulations, bans on child labour and selling oneself into slavery, and so on.

        There are also cases where regulation make all parties better off: in scenarios that can be modelled as instances of the Prisoner's Dilemma, if the government takes away the option to defect all parties obtain a better outcome.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

        Yes, exactly. Put simply, if the poor can survive by selling off their organs, the ruling class will find no need to provide jobs (or even food stamps).

      • Dan Browne

        Nope: you don’t get to frame the argument.

      • IMASBA

        “Put simply, if the poor can survive by selling off their organs, the ruling class will find no need to provide jobs (or even food stamps).”

        Yeah, I made that argument to. The elite will use such survival methods as an excuse to not do anyhing about the root causes of poverty.

      • JW Ogden

        What is more low-status than having to live off selling body parts?

        “Having too” is a little vague. Does it mean that they would starve without it? I ask because I wonder is something like a basic income guarantee would eliminate that objection.

      • IMASBA

        ” “Having too” is a little vague. Does it mean that they would starve without it? I ask because I wonder is something like a basic income guarantee would eliminate that objection.”

        A basic income would certainly change things, at least in my opinion. Take the desperation factor out and people can afford to say no or demand a higher price. But that’s the sad part: if people like Robin spent half as much time advocating for basic income (or other ways to fundamentally solve poverty) as they do now arguing that poor people should sell their organs then politicians might actually listen and do something about poverty.

      • Dan Browne

        It would simply shift desperate choices into the category of “stupid choices”. Like selling your kidney for an ipad.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

        I don’t think the picture would change qualitatively with a minimum income. Rich people get desperate; the “middle class” experiences decision fatigue. Whether you need to do it or not, selling body parts is very low status. (imho)

        (My position would change if there were a huge market in body parts, and suppressing it meant putting millions in prison. Thus abolishing drug laws avoids the decision-fatigue argument.)

      • Dan Browne

        You already effectively have a minimum income in places like Norway with the very generous welfare state. They still suffer from drug addiction and other equivalently stupid lifestyle choices.

      • IMASBA

        Right, 1 in 100 people would still make such stupid choices (those people just cannot take care of themselves and thus qualify for state nannyism). Basic income is not a panacea, but it does wonders for the other 99 people.

      • Dan Browne

        “For most jobs, the employer has much more bargaining power”.
        This is a local effect also thus your assertion “for most” is falsifiable easily by counter-example:
        In China, the bargaining power is in the hands of the workers and they are suffering large wage inflation at the lower end to the extent that there is a push to outsource to lower cost regions.
        Also: in many regions within the industrialized countries highly skilled labor is definitely able to command the price that they would like to work for.
        My personal position is that people should not be restricted from trading.

      • VV

        > In China, the bargaining power is in the hands of the workers

        Sure, sweatshop workers jump from the roofs of the factories because they have too much bargaining power.

        > My personal position is that people should not be restricted from trading.

        It doesn’t change the fact that there are many practical cases where trade restriction increase the welfare of many people.

      • Dan Browne

        The PPP of the average Chinese person is on a hyperbolic curve as below:
        http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/RGDPWOCNA627NUPN

        You are therefore full of shit.

      • VV

        @dan_browne:disqus

        The fact that PPP of Chinese workers has been growing doesn’t change the fact that it still abysmal compared to that of their employers, or even Western workers

        (that’s the chart for the US: http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/RGDPWOUSA627NUPN?cid=33114)

        In fact, lots of Chinese people try to emigrate to Western countries, even illegally, while there isn’t exactly a queue of Western people trying to immigrate to China.

        Therefore, my point stands.

      • IMASBA

        VV makes some great points, but misses the most important one. All this talk of “freedom of choice” and so on is useless when there isn’t a level playing field. The poor potential organ donor didn’t choose to be born poor (let’s be realistic about this, most of them will be born poor, they’ll be selling organs to buy food for another day, not because they voluntarily want to trade their health for material luxuries, the socialists do have a point when they say freedom from need is also a freedom, heck, criminal courts even take desperation into account as a mitigating factor). It’s an incredibly dickish move to ignore the way circumstances can force people’s hands. Libertarianism isn’t about freedom it’s about a certain kind of freedom, a kind of childish freedom that actual poor people would reject if given the choice between it and the kind of freedom something like social democracy provides. Every system, even libertarianism, forces a certain kind of freedom on everyone and takes away the other kinds (for example in libertarianism the poor have the freedom to sell their organs but not the freedom to choose an education because they cannot realistically afford it), it’s foolish to deny that.

      • Dan Browne

        It’s incredibly dickish to say that the TV piece is talking about necessary organs.

      • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

        Whether poor people are given a basic minimum income sounds like a separate issue from whether they are allowed to sell parts of their body.

      • IMASBA

        Uhm no. They’d be a lot less poor and thus a lot less desperate if they got a basic income. Not being desperate makes for much more rational actors. Right now there are a lot of poor people who would only sell their organs to feed their children, with a basic income they wouldn’t have to worry about feeding their children anymore.

      • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

        Selling your organs sounds more rational the more desperate you are to feed your children! Someone selling their kidney for an iGadget sounds more irrational a priori. I imagine that a law prohibiting only poor people from selling their organs might be more popular than one letting anybody sell, because people are more keen on restricting the choices of the poor (hence food stamps & housing vouchers instead of just cash, various requirements on welfare recipients).

        Poor people are actually MORE rational about some economic decisions, choosing to shop at a more distant store based on the absolute number of dollars saved rather percentage. What experiments could be designed to compare how rational people are when it comes to selling organs?

      • IMASBA

        “Selling your organs sounds more rational the more desperate you are to feed your children!”

        Nope, you’ll sell for a price that’s way too low, like a man in the desert willing to pay $10k for a bottle of water that cost $2 to import. Only a lifetime supply of food begins to equate what an organ is worth to the rich receiver.

      • Dan Browne

        Yeah. Although I have libertarian tendencies this is the part where I believe libertarianism breaks down. Hard core libertarians would say that it’s an agreed upon deal with no coercion simply because both parties agreed upon a trade. Most normal humans would consider it to be an unfair trade, however which has been proven over and over in psych experiments and results in punishment for the cheater.

      • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

        Dan Browne, Mike Munger has a term for what you’re talking about: “euvoluntary”.

      • oldoddjobs

        If someone is desperate enough to sell a kidney, either give him money yourself or leave him alone.

        Yours,

        A “normal human”.

      • IMASBA

        Or maybe start advocating for societal changes so people won’t get into the position of being so desperate anymore…

      • oldoddjobs

        You mean “take money from X and give it to Y” don’t you? That’s all anyone ever means anymore.

      • IMASBA

        Take money from someone who got lucky on the stock market or has a big trust fund and give it to a youth who was born poor and is motivated and qualified for an education. But there are also many other ways, such as reforming the justice system, criminal code, etc…

      • oldoddjobs

        So, take it from whoever has it then. Wow.

        (Who among us doing this taking is a mystery best passed over in silence)

        Reform sounds great. Who could be against reform!?

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

        (Who among us doing this taking is a mystery best passed over in silence)

        Hardly! Robin’s theory is that the state is (in essence) the means by which resources are redistributed: by popular coalitions.

      • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

        If you are in the desert about the die, then you really ought to pay whatever you can. I’d consider it irrational for you to say “No, organs are really worth more than that, so I’m just going to die instead” (I’m assuming away bargaining for the purpose of this hypothetical). The minimum wage does have a collective-action aspect to it, the clear analogue here would be a price FLOOR on organs rather than a ban.

      • IMASBA

        It is rational at that moment, but not what most people would call voluntary, especially not when water bottle sellers put kids in the desert.

      • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

        IMASBA, so you agree it is rational? And you seem to be referring to the “euvoluntary” concept I mentioned to Dan. Getting back to organs, is your ACTUAL objection that it’s irrational or that it’s non-euvoluntary? I’m also not clear on what the biomarket analogue is for water-sellers that kidnap people and drop them in the desert.

      • IMASBA

        “Getting back to organs, is your ACTUAL objection that it’s irrational or that it’s non-euvoluntary?”

        It’s involuntary, it’s also irrational in the long term (and on scales larger than one person) even though it’s rational in the short term. There are lots of analogues to this in life: for example it’s easy and fast, therefore rational in the short term to take the car to cross a small distance, but in the long run you’ll get fat, unfit and die early and on a larger scale it causes pollution.

        “I’m also not clear on what the biomarket analogue is for water-sellers that kidnap people and drop them in the desert.”

        Examples include a society that funds schools based on local taxes (so F-you when you’re born in a poor neighboorhood), or a society that has made a ponzi scheme out of tuition of tertiary education, or a society where the rich bought most politicians and are externalizing the cost of pollution and subsidies.

      • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

        If you’re dying in the desert, it actually is rational to accept a low price for your organs. The long term is irrelevant if you’re about to die.

        Pollution is more of a collective action problem. The individual harm you suffer if you drive a polluting car is small, but if you multiply all the people in L.A who suffer from it, it adds.

        A society that even went to the extreme of completely privatizing education does not seem equivalent to one which kidnaps people and drops them in the desert. A lot of people would just not bother with education. And my understanding is that most unemployed people are not blood donors even now, with donation perfectly legal and compensated.

      • VV

        @TGGP:disqus
        It’s not a matter of rationality. As I tried to point out in my comment about minimum wages, there are cases where restricting someone’s options improves their outcome, even if they are rational agents.

      • Dan Browne

        Although I don’t like the idea of a basic income (I’d prefer subsidized education with living expenses paid and then going out into the economy) I agree with the basic stance of them having better choices if they have options.

      • IMASBA

        Coming back to my original point of the price: people can get a $100k settlement for getting beaten up with no permanent damage in a rich country, but somehow a poor person selling an organ may see only $1000, and that’s with the price already inflated by illegality, even the PPP difference between India and the US cannot bridge that gap and losing an organ is much worse than getting beaten up. How does Robin explain that the market just does not settle on a price that covers the (lifetime) costs of the donor? I think the answer is desperation (as in having no alternative except death) on the side of the donors, which kind of bursts the “rational agents agreeing to a mutually beneficial trade” bubble.

      • Dan Browne

        You’re deliberately inflaming the argument by using the framed example of organs instead of what the TV piece was about: selling non-essential body fluids like sperm, blood or plasma and non-essential body parts like hair or eggs.

      • IMASBA

        Did you watch the WHOLE video? Anyway, you must be new to this blog if you thought Robin wasn’t OK with selling kidneys.

      • Dan Browne

        Yeah I did. If Robin is OK with selling kidneys I wasn’t aware of it. For the record I’m against selling kidneys until it becomes easy/cheap enough to get new ones grown.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

        For the record I’m against selling kidneys until it becomes easy/cheap enough to get new ones grown.

        Why?

      • Dan Browne

        I think it’s a pretty stupid choice like addicting yourself to heroin. I won’t necessarily go out of my way to legally prevent people from making stupid choices but I would strongly advise them against it. Therefore I am opposed.

      • IMASBA

        “If Robin is OK with selling kidneys I wasn’t aware of it.”

        Well he is.

        “For the record I’m against selling kidneys until it becomes easy/cheap enough to get new ones grown.”

        A reasonable stance since then the damage wouldn’t be irreversible (at least if there was a realistic chance for a poor person to ever scrape together enough money to get new organs), though if new ones could be grown then demand for donor organs would plummet anyway.

      • Dan Browne

        There might still be a market for them if “used” organs are cheaper than “new”.
        Someone who is 70 for example who couldn’t afford new organs might like a pair of 40 year old kidneys if they are sufficiently discounted as compared with new ones…

      • IMASBA

        That’s possible. You might have contracts where the receiver, who just got a massive improvement in health and thus potential productivity (and reduction of medical costs), agrees to pay the donor in installments, with the total amount being enough for the donor to buy newly grown kidneys. Of course it would be better if newly grown organs were covered by universal healthcare. If cost is a problem (which I doubt given how expensive and messy the use of “second hand” organs is, newly grown organs can pretty much only be cheaper) some procedures that offer less QALY per unit of currency can be scrapped from coverage.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

        For “desperation” you might insert “decision fatigue” or (same meaning) “ego depletion,” a general source of market failure, eliminable under socialism. (See “Societal implications of ego-depletion theory…” — http://tinyurl.com/cgnt4lq )

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

        Libertarians trust adult individuals to make their own decisions, for better or worse. Authoritarians prefer to tell others what to do.

        You equate what I see as two separate dimensions: democratic vs. authoritarian and individualist versus collectivist. (Essentially, collectivists see pervasive externalities in [atomized] capitalist production.)

  • LarryCohen2014

    You did great! Awesome job!

  • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

    Being a tenured professor of economics, I’m *very* well aware of the possibility of market failures that could justify regulations. But that mere possibility is far from sufficient to be a good argument for any particular proposed regulation. To argue for a particular regulation, you need to say why there is a particular market failure in the particular situation, and why a particular regulation is a good response to that. Arguing merely “Poor people shouldn’t be allowed to sell their hair or blood because markets aren’t perfect and market failures are possible” is completely inadequate!!

    • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

      But that mere possibility is far from sufficient to be a good argument for any particular proposed regulation.

      Strawman.

      • Robin Hanson

        Markets can fail in either direction, with too much or too little consumed. Until you have a specific market failure argument, you don’t know which direction the error might be, and so don’t know which direction to fix it.

      • oldoddjobs

        How can regulation exist without something to regulate?

        “fail broadly in a societal sense” – you’re doing science!

    • IMASBA

      “Being a tenured professor of economics, I’m *very* well aware of the possibility of market failures that could justify regulations.”

      You are a (closeted) libertarian professor of economics, those tend not to believe in market failure.

      “But that mere possibility is far from sufficient to be a good argument for any particular proposed regulation.”

      It’s the probability of market failure multiplied by the severity of that failure that matters, in the case of organ selling both terms are rather high since, you know, we have desperate people who were born poor getting their organs cut out to sell to people who were born rich.

      “Arguing merely “Poor people shouldn’t be allowed to sell their hair or blood because markets aren’t perfect”

      It’s not blood and hair people worry about, those grow back, unlike kidneys and lungs, but you knew that already.

      • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

        Robin does believe in market failure and has advocated interventions in response, these just happen to be unpopular interventions. He thinks people should be able to provide info to others and then sue them for compensation a la “squeegee man”. He thinks paternity testing should be mandatory. He advocated a (local) government takeover of healthcare before the ACA, and while that was a compromise between positions he seems to advocate taxing healthcare for unpolitical reasons. He advocates taxing height (biting Mankiw’s reductio bullet). I think he advocated giving regulators a huge pool of money (so they can “stay solvent longer than the market can remain irrational) to make bets against “bubbles”, although I’m not sure if that was serious. My understanding is that he wants government to aim for a more egalitarian “em” future by ensuring that increased computer speed is the last step reached (after modeling & scanning is good enough). He even thinks the government should restrict prayer!

        The interviewer suggested there could be a problem of a “stratified” economy with poor people selling the things which are currently legal, like blood, hair & eggs. Robin later brought up organs.