Monthly Archives: November 2013

Links for Thursday, November 21

Here are the links I’ve tweeted about recently. Check them out:
You can build bombs w/stuff purchased *after* security check. Why do we still have the TSA? http://t.co/zaznsR9ksv #securityTheater

RT @zmre: Airport silverware silliness. #securitytheater http://t.co/BI13XqB9kB
The Senate’s bitcoin hearing was actually pretty positive. Of course there’s always one…http://t.co/l7Pa4GWR8d
Police on being recorded when on duty: “the ubiquitous tracking is too invasive of their personal privacy” http://t.co/ASy2TXxnzj
Hey Windows 8 UI people. When you give me a pop-up I don’t want, and don’t let me click around it, I get angry. http://t.co/tiNoj5BJaI
Just read Kozinski’s dissent in White v Samsung. Finally, someone who makes sense in IP law. Read it: http://t.co/78wdNAnUBj
Pentagon says it has no idea where the money is that it’s supposed to spend. The numbers are staggering. http://t.co/QFOY6XiWU8
RT @declanm: Yahoo “plans to have all data encrypted by the end of March”: http://t.co/yakjH0L6qO Yahoo’s users might want to thank Edward Snowden …
RT @TracyOpp: I interviewed Terry Bressi on in-country #immigration #checkpoints and recording his 300+ interactions http://t.co/h9kMUIhikz

Disrupting the Currency Market

My column that originally appeared in the Duke Political Review.

The advancement of the digital age has transformed financial transactions, both in high powered trading and in everyday use. According to Nilson Reports, some $4 trillion in purchases occurred using credit, debit or prepaid credit cards in 2012. Online shopping is omnipresent, and smartphones have even rendered trips to your local bank unnecessary, as checks can be deposited directly into your account from wherever you are. The one area of payments that remained undisrupted by the digital age was the concept of currencies themselves. Continue reading

We Should Compensate Organ Donors

This post stems initially from the AEI blog about organ donations.  Libertarians like to embrace controversial subjects and use purely applied economics in situations that we wouldn’t normally think they should apply.  The use of compensation for organ donations makes great sense economically but it is definitely controversial, so let’s analyze it.

Before we get into the moral questions, let’s look at if this would even be effective economically. There was a famous 1970 study that found blood donations actually dropped when people were compensated, since many were really compensated by the good feeling they got from helping others. When they were compensated, they lost that sense of charity and didn’t feel like donating any more. The Freakanomics blog however found that in later studies, if donors were compensated with a more subtle gift than direct cash, say a gift card, donations actually did increase. The human mind is not necessarily economically rational, but it does respond to incentives. I think it’s certainly possible organ donations could be monetized and have good results (i.e. increasing the number of organs available).

But let’s talk about morality, which is probably the real problem everyone has with this situation. Paying people to donate organs just feels wrong. Most non-economic minded people hate the concept of putting a price on human life of any kind, and this is no different. Remember all those stories of outrage whenever a government body places a numerical value on human life? Sure I think the government is inefficient, and there’s no reason to believe their static calculation is accurate, but it’s naive to believe certain things are unable to be valued.

While I may not agree with people who have these gut reactions to organ payments, the political reality is that most Americans won’t like this idea either. Nevertheless, I must emphasize that (assuming economic incentives work as we think they do, see previous paragraphs) their moral smugness is purchased at the expense of people’s lives and well-being. This is fascinating! People opposed to organ payments imagine that they are actively taking the high road against greedy opportunists. But in reality, they are actually depriving people who need organs of another way to get them.

Our ultimate goal here is purely utilitarian. How do we reduce organ shortages? Does everyone need 2 kidneys? Well, no. Can we more efficiently allocate these resources to increase everyone’s well-being? In other words, the current situation is not a Pareto Optimum–everyone’s welfare could be improved by allowing these transactions to occur. Anyone opposed is actually advocating for everyone else to be worse off so that they will feel morally superior.

But there is a final important point, something that often comes up when discussing libertarian economics. What about the poor person forced to sell their kidney for food? Is this really a voluntary transaction? It’s the same with prostitution–what about the poor woman with no income who is forced to sell her body just to eat? What about the unskilled laborer who is forced to work at a terrible job for less than minimum wage (this argument is used to advocate for the minimum wage). In some sense, it seems terribly clear to non-libertarians that these exchanges are not voluntary, since there really isn’t a good alternative for these economic actors.

This concept is better understood in reference to Munger’s idea of euvoluntary (or truly-voluntary) exchange. A euvoluntary exchange occurs when there are good alternatives. For example, when buying a car or ice cream one could always just go to a vendor across the street. But buying water in the middle of the desert for very high prices when there is no one else around is not euvoluntary, but merely voluntary. This is because it may be very difficult to bring water out to the desert, so it’s not unjust for a man to sell water for high prices in the desert. But clearly this exchange is like the poor man who must sell his kidney and not analogous to buying an ice cream cone. But as Munger says, even voluntary transactions are just, as they usually reflect a pre-existing problem of inequality which has nothing to do with the transaction. Again, the transaction makes everyone better off, so banning it helps no one.

Moreover, if this was a real policy, there would most likely be a great deal of restrictions.  More importantly, there are real restrictions that would be put in place by hospitals, not just governments.  Anyone malnourished or in poor health would not meet the health requirements needed for the surgery to sell a kidney.

Looking at financial and background analysis of the donor might also uncover that the patient is unfit to care for themselves or their recovery. They would either be denied or offered facilities to recover in as part of the compensation, removing more of the risk of exploitation.

Another restriction that could be instituted by governments would be a delay of the monetary compensation for a period of time. This eliminates immediate payouts, meaning only those with means carry on for a period of time would be able to participate.

People who are against the selling of organs offer a false choice of letting poor people sell their kidneys to survive vs have compassion and stopping this exploitation from occurring. The choice really is between letting already-poor people, along with everyone else have another option open to them, and at the same time saving many lives, and on the other hand letting those poor people continue to be poor and allowing those with kidney problems to stay on dialysis or possibly die while they wait for a kidney.