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March 22, 2005

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Rob

I suppose what's most shocking about this case is that anyone could find themselves in the situation where they would willing sell their child. As for the arguments against it, looks to me like they'd have to focus on the slippery slope arguments to do with the more general dangers of being prepared to put a monetary value on human lives, and the possible rights of the child a) not to treated as a commodity and b) to be able to contact it's biological mother. Don't get me wrong, I don't think it should be illegal (I think), but it's certainly undesirable (because of the attitude it displays to human life: not like cases of adoption, where it is recognized that it is wrong to sell children).

AJE

I find it remarkable that people's instincts are that we shouldn't associate monetary values with something as important as children. Surely it is completely irresponsible to plan for a child without calculating whether or not you can afford to provide it with the clothing, food and education it will require?

The best parents are those who approximate as closely as possible the cost of having a child.

The main issue in this case is incentives, (as always...) Yes, all parties would benefit but legalising the trade of babies, but it will provide an incentive among other such junkie mums. Personally I think this is a good thing - surrogacy is a beautiful thing, made possible by market exchange. But we must be careful to articulate how mothers might respond to such a change.

Dander

Think carefully about the incentives you would create: drug addicts would breed hoards of sickly children for sale. There could be a glut of them, driving the price down, leaving some babies in the hands of the incapable parents that begat them.

AJE

Dander - you're right, but follow through with your analysis. Is it likely that parents would breed children (a 9 month, painful, costly investment) without making sure there was adequate demand? Would people paying for children pay for a child with a smack habit?

The likelihood is that a market would develop, surely, where contracts are signed before pregnancy. Farmers don't plant crops without consideration for market conditions (unless they're being paid to by the EU, but that's another story...) so the idea that addicts would start producing countless kids for sale takes an unsophisticated view of markets.

Also, even if the price is driven down, surely that would make it more likely that the child would find a new home? Or doesn't the law of demand apply here?

Dander

Well, AJE, I'm not sure whether I'm too unsophisticated about marekts or whether you're too idealistic about drug addicts. Let's define a drug addict in economic terms: a hedonist who discounts the future massively. As such, their human capital is likely to be diddly-squat (I know successful people take drugs too but let's stick to the kind that would trade kids). Are such economic agents likely to estimate correctly the future demand for their products? No. Are they likely to consider that shagging and lying around for 9 months constitute a painful costly investment? No. Are they likely to think it's money for old rope (or new dope)? I reckon so. True, the market for kids of druggies will be cheaper. But for people who can't afford a Mothercare standard baby, they'll always be a market for Poundstretcher kids - or counterfeit Mothercare babies that are actually Pounderstretchers. What could happen is that we increase the number of unwanted children of drug addicts, or that the addict changes her mind when she sees the child but then can't cope. Of course, it could also work the other way round at times - the junkie gives up drugs at the sight of her new-born. Either way, the state would have to get involved to regulate who was buying and who was selling.

Underneath all of this is the gut feeling that a child shouldn't come into the world as a result of the mother's desire for cash but because of her desire - or at least readiness - for children. But I suppose you could always argue that by trading children to people who do want them, there is a mother out there waiting and wanting...

AJE

I think your last point hits the nail on the head - the market is an allocation device. Hence a market for babies is matching the sellers to buyers. The impule for the child coming into the world is not the mothers desire for cash - that is merely a medium - it is the longing of the buyer.

Regarding my idealism of drug addicts, I don't view this situation as providing an incentive ofr unwanted babies that doesn't currently exist. There already is an incentive to produce unwanted babies purely for monetary gain. The question then, is what institutions are most likely to give the baby a better quality of life.

I don't know what the answer is, but I do think that there's plenty of room for improvement over the current system, and a legalised market is an interesting thought experiment that is worth pursuing!

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