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#TWET: Why the Law is so Perverse

The Economics of Paid Parental... John Kerry, Anti-Terrorist...

kidneys2.jpg Having recently been diagnosed with kidney disease, you find yourself in need of a transplant. Fortunately (?), several years ago you joined a kidney club, agreeing to donate one of your own sometime in the future should you be a match. Now the tables have turned, and the club donor chosen by lot to donate a kidney to you has reneged. What can you do? What recourse do you have? According to the letter of the law, none. How does that make you feel? That's the opening vignette in this week's episode with law professor Leo Katz. (You may remember hearing about perhaps the world's only legal kidney market, but this week's episode goes into much more detail regarding the contractual obligations-or not-of people involved in such trades.) And why is there such a drastic shortage of kidneys anyway? Alex Tabarrok explored that question here.

Suppose that the state could save an extraordinary amount of resources by offering convicted felons given very long sentences (say, 30 years minimum) the alternative of "voluntary torture." This torture would be serious, and would be regarded as nearly equivalent to the incarceration. Would you support it? What if the felon in question had victimized a member of your immediate family? Another tough question. We know the prison population has grown dramatically, and more so among certain demographic groups, so shouldn't we do something?

There are more dilemmas to consider in Roberts's and Katz's conversation, and many are not for the faint at heart. But I think they're worth considering, and they really made me think. Property rights are great for solving problems, as David Henderson reminds us. But perhaps property rights aren't always the answer...Tough for economists to swallow, I know. But the law (and Leo Katz) ask us to think about the conditions under which other principles trump them.

COMMENTS (2 to date)
Grant Gould writes:

Tangentially related, Peter Moskos' _In Defense of Flogging_ makes the voluntary torture argument very well. Then he turns around and argues that if people would prefer flogging to the current criminal justice system, that's a pretty stunning indictment of the current system's cruelty.

One argument against legalizing some of Pareto-optimal solutions that Katz notes is that these solutions would serve as ways of letting the public look away from otherwise cruel systems.

Ricardo writes:

Many people think it is reasonable to take money, by force, from those who have lots, and give it to those who have little.

Many of those same people, however, think it is unreasonable to take a kidney, by force, from someone who has two, and give it to someone who has none.

As someone who has been diagnosed with kidney disease, I don't understand. Why is one okay but the other is not?

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