Can Capitalism Save Lives? | Econ Chronicles

Thousands of people die in the US every year because there’s a shortage of willing kidney donors. Some people are saved by the generosity of friends and family, but many more suffer because no willing & compatible donors come forward. As in most countries, it is illegal to compensate donors in the US for donating a kidney. Prof. Caplan argues that we should allow a market: if donors could be paid to donate a kidney through a reputable hospital, they could earn money and save a life in the process. Such a system would encourage many more donors, and save many more lives. But most people are uncomfortable with the idea that individuals or companies would make money by solving that kind of problem. They equate making a profit with selfish intentions, and bad results. Economics professor Bryan Caplan calls this “anti-market bias.”  He argues that most people (and voters) are prone to this bias, leading to harmful policies. Another example Caplan gives is air pollution. While most economists think that markets could help curb pollution, most regular people reject the idea. Perhaps this is partly because for many problems we face, it is difficult to imagine how markets and profit could help us find a solution. Caplan argues that this makes allowing markets even more important: they incentivize people to find new & creative ways of solving problems, many of which we never could have predicted in advance.


  1. gerardspainting

    Economist= maybe, if, it’s a possibility, woops!

  2. nathandrake

    People have no problem with adoption(ie. selling your kid) or renting a womb but somehow this is immoral?

  3. asexymind

    This brings up the fundamental question of paternalist governance – can we trust people to make decisions for themselves about their own choices/actions/priorities? Drug addicts, gamblers, thrill seekers, selling body parts, drinking soda, eating trans fats – do we really want to trust people to take care of themselves? Maybe only 5%, stilll …

    Anti-market bias is in no small part anti-human-intelligence bias. So, we must limit the 95% (or whatever it is) to protect the 5% from themselves.

  4. asexymind

    Also – compare our results with Iran.

  5. diamond_max


  6. jcrescenzo

    The problem with selling kidneys has more to do with the moral and paternalist laws in the United States of America, than market bias. Why would the law allow for abortion but not for voluntary sales of kidneys? The issue is politicians do not care about individual rights or freedom of choice, but the politicians do care about money in their pockets. If a special interest group advocated for kidney sales, than the politicians would listen to the group that is putting money in their pockets.

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