Thursday, September 12, 2013

Adoption Flea Markets

Tyler Cowen comments here on an extensive Reuters investigative piece here. This isn't the first time Munger and I have discussed this sort of thing, but I must admit that discovering the extent of secondary adoptions came as a bit of a surprise.

And like the trained euvoluntary exchangeur I am, my thoughts immediately flew to the alternatives. There are some horrible outcomes that could occur in black market adoptions, things I won't list here mostly because I don't want to squeeze my own emotional trigger. But if you consider those, you become beholden to consider the BATNA. For foreign adoptees, we're talking Dickensian nightmare orphanages. I elect to refrain from the graphic details, but when I lived in East Europe, I became friends with a man who had grown up in one of the nicer Lithuanian facilities. The thing that sticks in my mind is how the younger boys had to teach each other to fight just so they could avoid being raped nightly by the older boys. I again stress that this was one of the nicer facilities.

So it's wonderful that the precautionary principle insists on vetting new adoptive parents, but even with this process, it's still a gamble whether or not the adoption will "take", so to speak. Even with careful matching by above-board agencies, we're still looking at probability distributions fraught with high SD events. Bad things can happen to good people.

So we're pretty much left with institutional questions. It's already arbitrarily hard for couples that want to adopt from overseas to hack though all the red tape on both sides of the border. And if this Reuters piece is on the money, the secondary market has yet to develop its own rigorous self-monitoring mechanisms. Is there a free lunch on the table where a few tweaks can ensure better, faster matches and proper, accountable follow-up? It's something to think about, particularly if you're the sort of person who likes matching algorithms.

The other thing to carefully consider is what we might expect from a realpolitik policy adjustment. I worry that the seemingly needed crackdown will fall on the legitimate agencies rather than on the fly-by-night online matchmakers.

It's a tough problem.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?