Monday, September 5, 2011

Repugnant markets involving altruistic motivations

Kim Krawiec follows up on Kieran Healy's work on markets for organs, and how the distinction between gift giving and buying and selling isn't so clear.

Krawiec writes (I quote at length, but not the whole thing):

"...I agree with Kieran that financial incentives for human organs are more likely to win social acceptance if they resemble the gift-based allocation systems that have already gained social legitimacy. And the oocyte market – a clearly market-based system with the trappings of gift, including the language of donation -- is a good example of this phenomenon. 

In fact, as I’ve discussed before, this disconnect between market realities and gift narrative is an important feature of many taboo trades.  By normalizing otherwise jarring transactions, gift narratives may facilitate markets that otherwise would stagnate under the weight of social disapproval. For those, like me, who believe there is social value in enabling the infertile to reproduce or those dying from kidney failure to live – and, by corollary, allowing those who consider themselves better off by the receipt of compensation in exchange for an egg or kidney – to do so, this is a good thing. 
At the same time, though, the oocyte market example also illustrates the costs of denying market realities in favor of the pretense of gift exchange -- gifts in name only: 
(1) Legal misfit
Gift-based exchange regimes are typically governed by a different set of legal rules than are market-based exchange regimes.  We tend to recognize, for example, the possibilities for opposing interests and opportunistic behavior in a regime of market-based exchange.  And many legal rules governing market-based regimes are designed with these considerations in mind. In contrast, we often assume (incorrectly, especially when the gift is one in name only) an absence of opportunism and an alignment of interests in the case of gift-based exchange. 
(2) Social stereotypes
I do not know if, or how, this would play out in organ markets, but it has for some time concerned me with respect to reproductive markets, especially the oocyte and surrogacy markets.  Scholars have long noted the presumption that many services provided by women, including reproductive and domestic labor, should be provided altruistically, despite their high economic value.  Says Mary Anne Case, for example:
Much of what women have market power over, such as their sexual and reproductive services, they have long been expected not to commodify at all. Even when monetary compensation is allowed, it is often kept low and female providers are expected to be interested in rewards other than money.
The continued insistence that egg donors are, and should be, motivated primarily by altruism and the desire to help others, rather than by the desire for monetary compensation, threatens to reinforce gendered notions that the market activities of women are driven in large part by altruism and that women as a group are uninterested in reaping the full gains of trade from the provision of their goods and services. 
The comparison to sperm markets is especially telling. The insistence on the altruistic motivations of egg donors is in stark contrast to the presumed motivations of sperm donors, who are recruited through materials that ask, “Why not get paid for it?” and advertise, “your sperm can earn!” 
In the end, gifts in name only represent a trade-off.  On the one hand, the language of donation coupled with the realities of market-based exchange has the capacity to legitimate otherwise troubling exchanges, facilitating life-saving operations and parenthood for the infertile.  At the same time, gift-in-name-only exchange has consequences for the social, legal, and market structure of these industries, and for the consumers, producers, and others, including the public-at-large, affected by them."

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