Category Archives: Economics

NYT and WSJ Agree
Kid You Not

Epstein in WSJ and Satel in NYT both say something needs to be done about kidneys (reversing the Ethicist’s stand). They both look to big payments to kidney sellers as a way to stop “6,500 excess deaths” due to lack of kidneys.

It is against the law to offer “valuable consideration”. Kidney buyers can take the matter into their own hands and not wait for a law change. Instead of a “valuable” consideration for a sold kidney, consider the following proposal:

  • Small payments to lots of prospective sellers upon death
  • A contract that pays a buyers organization a large sum of money from the estate if the organ sale is obstructed by family

It would work like life insurance in reverse. Kidney buyers would pay lots of people a consideration that doesn’t trigger the “valuable” language. In the absense of a kidney being delivered on death if one is available, the estate of the deceased would owe a payment. Some donors might sign the commitment without a consideration just to create a strong incentive for their family to honor their wishes with regard to donation.

The proposal is not sensitive to the needs of the grieving family, but I would rather have 3250 irate families than 6500 extra prematurely grieving ones due to a lack of kidneys.

European Carbon Market Crisis

The carbon emission offset market in Europe is in crisis because of an unexpected 50% price drop in the last couple of weeks. True to Europe, the traders are demanding government intervention to prop up the price(!) of carbon offsets. While it is true that the governments can afford to buy more, why would they want to? The high price of hydrocarbons will curb carbon emissions.

Assuming that the coal/methane/nuclear balance continues to move toward nuclear for electricity, high gasoline prices mean less carbon. So either we will run out of oil or we will have high CO2, not both.

Get Rid Of It

According to this, pennies are now worth less than their cost of manufacture. My rule for getting rid of a coin is the point at which you can no longer purchase anything with a single one of it. In fact, at this point, with multi-hundred-thousand-dollar houses, and new cars costing over twenty thousand dollars, is there even anything that you can buy with a nickel any more?

Time to can the coin, and come up with some other way to honor Mr. Lincoln.

Organ Sale Ethics is Cultural

In The Ethicist column in the New York Times Magazine last month, Randy Cohen talked about organ transplant sales being unethical:

For a system of acquiring organs to be ethical, it must be equitable, which is not the case when one economic class is exploited (and put at significant medical risk) for the benefit of another. And exploitation it is when the seller is not making a truly voluntary decision but responding to financial desperation.

Is it unethical to hire a maid who is financially desperate? If I had trouble getting a job out of college, I would be financially desperate, but I would be very grateful for the opportunity to sell my labor.

Organs are different than jobs. But the difference is not financial desperation.

Power To The People

Well, actually, power from the people:

I’ve always thought it’d be cool if we had giant turbines powered simply by brawn, sort of like that mill-thingy that made Conan so strong in the first Conan movie. I’m not talking slave labor, but if we could work out the technological kinks we could hire people at minimum wage to push a giant wheel around and around generating electricity much the same way dams do. Teenagers who couldn’t find other work could do it. They’d get in shape, stay out of trouble, and earn a few bucks. Unemployed people would always have at least one fall back job available to them. It would help with health care costs as it would provide ample exercise. There would be no damage to the environment and pretty much the only foot print would be, well, footprints. People who worked nights or in bad weather would be paid a bit extra. PIRG hippy volunteers could do it too, in their spare time. Every human turbine spin is one less gallon of oil pumped from the ground.

Though, as he notes in the preamble graf, he’s not sure about the economics of it. I can assure him that it’s nuts.

But it reminds me of an idea I and some colleagues at Rockwell had back in the eighties about how to get the public more involved in space. Since one can view the space program as the modern-day equivalent of a cathedral, or building pyramids, why not get the masses into the act? Instead of using those big diesel engines on the Crawler at the Cape, why not harness human muscle power? We could have hundreds of people–volunteers–pulling on ropes, hauling the giant vehicle down the causeway. I think that it would be quite symbolic of…something.