I have been working on the idea of "euvoluntary" (ie, truly voluntary) exchange for some time.
Take five minutes, and watch this video, and read this article.
On the "for" side:
"We are allowing young people to undertake £20,000 to £30,000 of university fee payments. "We allow them to burden themselves with these debts. Why can't we allow them to do a very kind and generous thing but also meet their own needs?"
However, Robin Parker, president of NUS Scotland, said: "Although the lack of available kidneys for transplant is truly tragic given the need, it's ludicrous to suggest that selling body parts is a viable solution to alleviating student poverty.
"Young people, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds, are already being asked to take on huge debt to afford an education. They shouldn't be expected to remove a body part as well."
Now, in both of these cases, our outrage is likely due to a sense that people should not have to sell their kidney. But then we skip to a non sequitur: People will not BE ALLOWED to sell their kidney. So, the inexplicable Ms. Parker above says people should not be expected to remove a body part as well. Well...no. But what about remove a body part INSTEAD, ma'am?
I don't know what the right policy is. But I am quite certain that the fact that I should not have to do it does not imply that I should be prevented from doing it. Non sequitur. It does not follow.
Especially since I am allowed to DONATE the kidney. If kidney donation were illegal, then outlawing a black market is at least logically consistent. But allowing donation, but not sale...WTF?
The interesting thing is that this happens a lot. If a man buys a woman a nice dinner, they go to a show, have a drink afterward, AND THE MAN PAYS FOR EVERYTHING, there is no problem if the woman goes home with him and they have sex. She can "donate" without a problem. (As the old joke goes, the woman says, "Well, that was great! Now, the rest of your evening is on me.")
But if she asks for, or the man offers, $500 for the sex, then it is illegal. So, again, we don't mind the act, it is only the sale that creates problems.
Why? We think prostitution is demeaning, a loss of human dignity. No woman should have to sell herself like that.
Okay, but does that mean she is NOT ALLOWED to sell herself?
What about surrogate motherhood? We are renting the same part of the body as a prostitute wants to rent out, but for a longer period. Why is voluntary sex, and also surrogate motherhood, legal but prostitution is not? Who would you ratherhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif be, the woman who got paid that 3k dollar to make E. Spitzer holler, or the woman who got $7 per hour to clean up the room afterward? Is it THAT obvious that the $1k/hour prostitute should be "protected," but not the chambermaid allowedwho has to hose down the walls of the love nest? (Of course, that was before DSK decided that the chambermaid could just be taken for the not-asking. If you are French, apparently you believe that "voluntary" sex means that the man wants it.)
My answer is that we have the intuition that these transactions, kidney sale or sex for sale, are not "euvoluntary." Voluntary, perhaps, but not euvoluntary. Gated version of the article here. If you want a copy, send me an email: munger at duke dot edu.
(UPDATE: The most worthy Worstall has written on the specific subject of organ sales. Worth looking at, as always. Among other things, Tim points out that in fact, in the UK, prostitution is essentially legal, though with some quirks. Surrogate motherhood, on the other hand, is for all practical purposes NOT legal as a straight up rental transaction, except for the ability to pay for expenses.)