Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How Do I Sold Babby?

Should you be able to sell your infant to the highest bidder?

No, I'm not asking this question just so I can imagine the smoke curling from your ears. I'm being quite serious. The first-order effects are likely to be welfare-enhancing. In a voluntary transaction, the biological mother is better off, by definition with the cash instead of the baby, the adoptive parents are better off with the child than with the cash, and the child itself is better off in a relatively affluent home than abused, neglected, or aborted by a mother who didn't want to keep it.

But that's mere first-order reasoning. We've all studied economics and criminal justice. We know that an unregulated market in children turns kids into chattel and young women into biological factories, right? Wouldn't child pornographers have an incentive to buy up kids and force them into brief lives of unimaginable horror?

Isn't that what they do anyway? How would making it legal for childless couples to transact for adoption affect their sordid business model in the slightest? It's still illegal to produce child pornography, so what changes?

And is a career as a surrogate mother really so bad that it needs to be banned outright? Is the risk of ex post regret systematic or idiosyncratic? There's no fraud as far as I can tell, so it has to be the latter. Unpaid surrogacy is perfectly legal, so I have a hunch that the paid version has something to do with BATNA disparity. How dare those rich people take advantage of poor women by paying them to bring another human life into the world? Exploitation!

Exploitation that redistributes not just money but genes. It seems to me as if Rawls would approve. I don't see how it's any better that the child have no chance of life at all or that it's raised in relative destitution.

But even if I could convince you of all that, there's still an interesting bit of residual moral intuition. It seems to me that holding everything else constant, folks would probably be more okay with paid surrogacy than with the sale of a child already born. If my hunch about this is true, what's the difference? And does that difference engage with folks' moral intuitions on other reproductive rights topics?

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