Monday, November 27, 2006

Repugnant markets: it's not just kidneys

Keeping with the recent Milton Friedman theme: Friedman beleived that markets can solve basically any problem. Here's an excerpt from a blog entry at The Economist:

"Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money." That's what Peter the Apostle said to Simon Magus when he tried to buy the power to work miracles. Mr Magus gave us the word "simony", which means the buying and selling of ecclesiastical offices, but can also refer to any human venture or transaction too lofty for the market.

Alvin Roth of Harvard University has published a new working paper on the many potential market transactions--from the selling of cadavers in the 19th century, to serving horsemeat in Californian restaurants--that are hobbled by the kind of repugnance Peter felt for Simon. Some of his examples are poignant as well as repugnant,

"the French Ministry of the Interior, in 1991, issued a statement saying that 'dwarf tossing should be banned'... a French dwarf, who had been employed by a company called Société Fun-Productions, successfully sued in French courts to have the bans overturned. However the bans were upheld on appeal... on the grounds that 'dwarf tossing… affronted human dignity…”' The dwarf then brought his complaint to the UN... he stated 'that there is no work for dwarves in France and that his job does not constitute an affront to human dignity since dignity consists in having a job.' However the UN committee found in favor of France..."

What do you think of this ruling? should there be a market for tossing dwarfs? Why or why not? And if not, are there other things that should not be left to the market? Do you have examples? Try to make your argument on the basis of what goes wrong if you let the market try to allcoate goods and services (seeing that we usually assume that goods and services will be assigned efficiently by the market).


Anonymous said...

I don't think there should be a market for dwarf tossing since there is no way to put a price on dignity. At the same time I think the dwarf should have the right to choose whether or not he sells his dignity. There are many human attributes that you can't put a price on and unless you choose to it should not be allowed.
- Chris G.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion the government should not decide whether or not Dwarf tosssing should be a market. I dont think it will ever become a noticible maket in size becuase i do not think enough dwarfs would participate in it. The same reasoing can be used for any other strange product that can be sold. If someone offers a service that will punch the buyer in the face I dont think very many people would buy the product, and therefore the market would not be very large at all. I also do not understand how the governemnt can decide that something is undignified and therefore should be illegal. Lack of dignity is not the same thing as a hate crime. In the example of dwarf tossing, a dwarf who is disgusted by it does not have participate in the act. A present day example of the idea is people opposed to abortion. The prolifers do not support or use abortion even though it is legal.

seth weiland

Anonymous said...

In the case of dwarf tossing, I'm not sure I'm really all that against it, as long as the person participating is doing so willingly. I'm not really one for government regulations on morality in any case, but, not only in the case but also in similar ones, one has to decide where the line should be drawn on regulated morality. If you say that the government shouldn't be allowed to shut down any market, then imagine what kinds of things would eventually emerge. For example, prostitution, or even prostitution of minors, could emerge. Even if young girls are willing to sell themselves for sex, should they be allowed to? What if they claim it's not an affront to their dignity in any way? The line has to be drawn somewhere, it's just tough to define where that is.
-Jordan Croom

Anonymous said...

Even though i don't necessarily think dwarfs would agree to an open market of dwarf tossing, i think that if there is enough participation and it is profitable and the dwarfs are ok with it, then fine. However, like Seth says, I don't forsee the market ever being successful. I also don't understand how the government can put prices on things such as dignity. Much like chris says, there are certain human qualities that should not and can not be appraised. However there are many potential "bad" or not lucrative markets that would be somewhat destructive and not productive. One example of a bad market would be the one for bounty hunters or assassins. If you hire a hitman to kill someone you don't like, and the government beings to profit from this, then of course there's going to be more allocation of resources, eventually resulting in many people with hitmen escalating the death rate. Anybody could go hire a personal assassin and kill the person that they accidentally bumped into or that took their place in line. Although this example is a little extreme it shows how destructive a market can become when the government throws its weight behind and supports.

-John Schmidt

Anonymous said...

I figure this is kind of like the sweat shop argument we talked about in class. The people in the sweat shop were not slave laborers and niether are the dwarves. They have a choice of careers, and if they choose to work in the dwarf tossing bussiness, than the dwarf tossing bussiness must be better or equal to their all their other options.
jacob hormes