Selling kidneys

August 17, 2014

The Times has an interesting piece today about selling kidneys, which is always good for an argument. Let’s set it up with a poll: Should kidney sales be legal? Circle one of the following: 

(a) That’s disgusting, I’m going back to the Kardashian twitter feed.
(b) Selling body parts is not only illegal, it’s immoral.
(c) Yes, of course, letting supply equal demand would maximize social welfare.

(a) is John Asker. Most people choose (b): they find the whole idea of selling body parts troubling. But what’s also troubling is hundreds of thousands of people suffering through a low quality of life on dialysis while they wait for a kidney. Not to mention that it costs a fortune. And that many of them die waiting.

That’s what drives many economists to (c). We have a market in which the demand far exceeds supply. Why not raise the price? Why not let donors benefit from their gift of a kidney, saving someone in distress and getting a gift of money in return? The Times piece describes what happens when these transactions are driven underground.

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