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Repugnant Markets

Men in the Philippines show their scars from kidney operations
Men in the Philippines show their scars from kidney operations
BBC Radio 4's Analysis: Repugnant Markets will be broadcast on Thursday, 12 July 2007 at 20:30 BST.

Thousands of people die every year while on the waiting list for a kidney; billions have a spare kidney. There's the possibility of a trade here, but buying and selling kidneys is widely thought of as, frankly, a repugnant exploitation of the poor by the rich.

Should it be? Will it go the way of life insurance, reviled in the 19th century but now regarded as close to a moral duty? Or, like selling yourself into slavery, will kidney sales become ever more of a taboo?

Kidney selling is just one example of a repugnant market but there are many others. The Pentagon was accused of having a plan to predict terrorist strikes by selling 'terrorism futures'; the plan was dropped when it became public, but many economists think it would have worked and saved lives.

'Dwarf tossing' is widely banned as an affront to human dignity, but how should we respond to the professional dwarf missile, made jobless by a ban in France, who took his case to the UN Court of Human Rights?

In Analysis: Repugnant Markets, economist Tim Harford asks whether our objections to such transactions are based on practical grounds, or on justifiable feelings of distaste. And whether, in fact, we should allow more of life to be brought into the scope of the market.

Among his interviewees are the writer Virginia Postrel who donated a kidney to a friend, Al Roth, Professor of Economics at Harvard University, Dr Lee Rayfield the Bishop of Swindon, Prof Robin Hanson of George Mason University and Prof Naomi Pfeffer, an expert in the trade in body parts.

BBC Radio 4's Analysis: Repugnant Markets, will be broadcast on 12 July, 2007 at 20:30 BST. The presenter, Tim Harford, is a Financial Times columnist and author of "The Undercover Economist".

Presenter: Tim Harford
Producer: Richard Vadon
Editor: Nicola Meyrick


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