Thursday, April 23, 2015

Truncating Your Utilitarian Analysis

We should not want to treat human babies as a commodity whether or not we "gain utils" by doing so. But that is not the only problem with Abby Hall's "analysis" of the issue. She also severely truncates her utilitarian analysis.

First of all, she treats the number of "unwanted" babies as being unmoved by a legal market for children. Coming from a crew of people who can never stop telling us that "incentives matter," this is a rather shocking omission. Of course, once they know they can legally get a new car or a trip around the world for the infant that is whining at 3 A.M. and keeping them up, a lot more mothers are going to "realize" that they don't want their babies. In fact, it won't take long before poor mothers see that they have years of good-paying work ahead of them, becoming pregnant again and again.

And Hall also fails to look at "substitute goods" in a broader context: adopted babies are a substitute for your own. She invokes the sad cases of people who cannot conceive, but there is no way to limit a market for babies to just such couples. People will naturally form business marketing babies, and marketing the idea that the "rational" thing to do is to avoid the risk and mess of pregnancy, and pick your ideal child out of a catalog.

So, we will have a world in which poor mothers will produce child after child as their "job," children that will be corporate commodities marketed on glitzy Internet sites to the wealthy. And having bought their children the same way they would a TV or jacuzzi, if they find their purchase to be "defective," they will want the right to return it. And what will "Babyland" do with a defective product that gets returned several times?


  1. Interesting how she frames it: selling your "rights" over the child. But it's also selling -- or rather unloading -- your responsibilities. I think a lot of the problems you (rightly) identify flow from that. Take the return of defective merchandise. The purchaser either feels no responsibility, or sees a way to buy it off. The seller created the product without any expectation of it. Suddenly no-one has the responsibility in some sense.

    Once again extreme libertarianism fails with children. A theory failing on 100% of the persons it is meant to apply to is not a good thing!

  2. Coming from a crew of people who can never stop telling us that "incentives matter," this is a rather shocking omission.

    Maybe I am just weird, but the whole idea of incentives never felt relevant to me in most issues.

  3. I don't endorse this, just pass it along as I expect it is right up the Callahan alley


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