A Question for Free Market Proponents

I finally finished reading Michael Sandel’s What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (I’d talked about it earlier in this post on rhino hunting auctions). Since reading it, I’ve been pondering a question, which I wish Sandel had posed to his opponents during this LSE debate.

During the debate, one of the examples (of the moral limits of markets) Sandel gives is blood – i.e., rather than (or in addition to) donating blood, should one be able to buy and sell/auction it? In his response, his opponent Julian Le Grand promptly says yes, there should be such a market. The question I wish Sandel had asked as a follow-up is the following:

Practicalities aside, and assuming fair background conditions, is there anything which you think should NOT be on the market? If YES, what is your argument for the same?

Let me clarify it a bit – I say “practicalities aside” so as to exclude reasons like “it would be impossible to regulate” and “it would get misused”. And I say “fair background conditions” to exclude reasons of inequality, since this is bound to be the most common reason given (markets can exploit the under-privileged). Instead I want to keep the focus on the fundamental nature of the good itself. (This is one of the main arguments in Sandel’s book – markets “corrode” certain goods and change attitudes and practices associated with those goods for worse.)

Here are two examples that I thought of for the question:

1) A market in child adoption. I.e. biological parents hold an auction where adoptive parents bid for the baby.

2) A market in tickets for capital punishment. States (where capital punishment is legal) sell/auction tickets to an execution, and pump the proceeds back into improving the prison system. The state also auctions a single ticket to be the executioner.

It would be interesting to hear the “YES” responses from free market proponents. (Note: I’m genuinely interested; this is not a “let’s troll those libertarians” post.)


Hunting a Rhino to Save Rhinos

BBC News reports today that a permit to hunt and kill an endangered Black Rhino in Namibia has been sold at a US auction for $350,000 (£212,000):

The auction was held amid tight security at a Dallas convention centre, where dozens of protesters had gathered. The winning bidder – who has not been named – will hunt an old, non-breeding male rhino. The organisers say such animals actually pose a threat to younger rhinos, which they sometimes charge and kill. All proceeds will be donated to the Namibian government and will be earmarked for conservation efforts, safari club officials said.

A black rhino seen head-on, standing in the grass at Ngorongoro, Tanzania.

A black rhino seen head-on, standing in the grass at Ngorongoro, Tanzania. (Photo by Demetrius John Kessy, CC BY 2.0 license. Links to source.)

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