Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Market Kidney?

Virginia Postrel ( donated a kidney to a friend (see "Let us now praise famous outcomes" from a few days ago). This donation doesn't fit the heartless-libertarian reputation.

Comes now a Bloomberg columnist named Amy Schlaes with some spicy comment and an outline of a very intriguing idea by Dr Steve Postrel, who is, ahem, inter alia, Virginia's husband. Quoth the Maven:

The reputation of libertarians is that they are selfish, and that the female of the species is the more selfish.

After all, libertarians insist on applying commercial paradigms to moral problems, which seems asocial and downright unfeminine.
After spending so much time thinking renally, Virginia's husband Steve even came up with his own elegant little market solution to the fatal organ shortage. Citizens who give an organ get a holiday from federal taxes for a year. High earners pay lots of tax, and low earners pay next to none. As Postrel points out, the holiday idea is therefore less vulnerable to the usual criticism that organ dealing exploits the poor.

The kidney holiday sounds quirky enough to also appeal to the philanthropist, who tends to want two contradictory things: the satisfaction of giving and the sense that he really is getting something out of it.

Still, Virginia in the end gave not because she was Right, but because it seemed right.

``It was not as Virginia, the libertarian, but Virginia, the friend, that I was giving'' Postrel says. ``People who believe in markets do all sorts of non-market transactions.''

"Without thinking much about it, Postrel and Satel have made some important points. Well-intentioned policy can be fatal. Arch-conservatives can have big hearts, as big as any heart at the London School of Economics or at the Democratic Leadership Council. Market-orientation and charity are not opposites. Sometimes they go together. Public institutions can't monopolize morality, as much as they would like to. And they probably shouldn't be allowed to monopolize kidneys, either."

Read it all

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