Richard Posner and Elisabeth Landes wrote this excellent paper in 1978, but I’m only now seeing it. It speaks of the terrible inefficiencies — pervasive shortages and surpluses — that come with state adoption agencies and their price controlled system of allocating the right to raise children. They address all the usual objections to a market for children and generally provide enough evidence to lower the temperature of the debate and introduce some rational thinking here.
In passing, they point out that a real market for child-rearing rights would probably end the practice of abortion or perhaps seriously curtail it.
Wow. When was the last time this point has been made an a debate on abortion? I’ve been thinking through it for years but never actually seen it discussed before. But it is really a no brainer. Why are value resources being tossed away when there are plenty of people out there who clearly want to use them? There is an intervention in the market process, and that intervention concerns the market for child-rearing rights. If we had an open market that allowed for payments to expecting mothers, the decision to abort would carry a heavy opportunity cost. Right now, all the cost is associated with carrying the baby to term.
This is the kind of libertarian research that could make a huge difference in the world. This paper came out in 1978. I see it as compatible with Murray Rothbard’s views on child rights. Don Boudreaux wrote along the same lines. If anyone knows of other work in this area, I would love to see it. It seems that more work needs to be done in this area.
I once asked an anti-abortion activist whether he would favor a market for children if permitting one could reduce the number of abortions by half. He quick answer was no. I asked him to clarify: are you saying that it is better to be dead than traded? Yes was his answer.
That’s interesting to me because the current adoption market is already rooted in the cash nexus and trade. The problem is that it is seriously hampered by monopolization, regulations, and price controls.
I’m really happy with this way this article turned out. It is published at Crisis. The editor John Zmirak had initially sent me a piece by the legendary historian Christopher Dawson and asked me to respond. I generally avoid this sort of debate so I didn’t bother to look at the piece for probably ten days or so. In fact, I didn’t really accept the challenge.
Then I read the piece. It was quite incredible. Dawson sweeps his scholarly hand over vast continents and epochs and makes wild claims entirely abstracted from the real experience of humanity. Nowhere does he show the slightest interest in the plight of the common man and his quality of life. He is happy to declare the middle ages to be this wonderful time of faith and order and then proceeds to blast away all of the last several hundred years as hopelessly corrupted by materialism. His target is what he calls the bourgeoisie, and here he admits that his thinking is in line with Karl Marx. But there is a difference. Whereas the Marxists posited a hopeless conflict between capital and labor, his model posits a conflict between real faith and material provision. The two are irreconcilable.
The real danger of the Dawson piece is its erudition in big things and its deep disengagement with the small things that make life good, like clean clothes, medical care, running water, job opportunities, access to food to feed the children, and the like. He cares nothing for these things. He is content to simply praise the past for its Michelangos and Berninis and condemn the present for its Lady Gagas and Justin Beibers. It’s really a cheap trick and an obvious one: pick the best of the past and the worst of the present and you can paint a picture of relentless decline.
My response points to the dramatic change that took hold of the world in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a change that created what we call the middle class today. It gave life to hundreds of millions of people. Without the bourgeoisie and the capitalist marketplace they sustain, the world could not support seven billion. Surely a high-minded cultural historian like Dawson should care about things like this? Surely!
In the days following the gift-giving holidays, many millions of people stand in judgement over the quality of the gifts they gave and the gifts they receive. Did they arrive on time? Did the quality hold up? Did the reality match the advertising hype? The Internet ads an extra wrinkle. Anyone dissatisfied can post blistering attacks on any merchant and the product in questions. Anyone can vote up or vote down.
The down votes are what make the news. The Wall Street Journal tells the story of Scott Mitchell of Connecticut, who purchased from Best Buy and Playstation 3 for his two sons ages 10 and 14.The company let him know via an email that the goods didn’t arrive. He was furious and wouldn’t stop posting diatribes against the company. Eventually, the suits got involved and sent him his full bundle of goods at a low price plus a $200 gift certificate.
“While I can’t say I’m happy, I wound up being satisfied,” Mr. Mitchell told the Journal.
The case was cited as one of many such cases. Consumer demand was so intense that Best Buy got behind. The company didn’t have the inventory it needed to fill all requests. Cyber Monday overloaded the staff and they couldn’t respond fast enough. Any business that hears the story thinks: nice problem to have. Inventory decisions like this require daily clairvoyance.
What’s more important here is what this anecdote indicates about the social order. In this setting above, who is in control? Mr. Mitchell is just one lone guy with one problem with a company that serves untold millions. But he had a voice and his voice was heard. The company scrambled to please him.
[This article is based on a speech I gave at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, December 5, 2011.]
You know that anti-piracy video you sometimes see at the beginning of movies? It explains how you wouldn’t steal a handbag, so neither should you steal a song or movie by an illegal download. Well, it turns out that the guy who wrote the music for that short clip, Melchoir Rietveldt, says that his music is being used illegally. It had been licensed to play at one film festival, not replayed a million times in DVDs distributed all over the world. He is demanding millions in a settlement fee from BREIN, the anti-piracy organization that produced the thing.
Interesting isn’t it? When you have hypocrisy that blatant, criminality this rampant, practices called piracy this pervasive – it reminds you of the interwar Prohibition years – you have to ask yourself if there is something fundamentally wrong with the law and the principles that underlie the law. Yes, people should keep to their contracts. But that’s not what we are talking about here; this case is being treated not as a contract violation but a copyright violation, which is something different. We are dealing with a more fundamental issue. Is it really stealing to reproduce an idea, an image, or an idea? Is it really contrary to morality to copy an idea?
The verdict here is crucially important because ever more of the state’s active intervention against liberty and real property is taking place in the name of intellectual property enforcement. The legislation SOPA could effectively end Internet freedom in the name of enforcing property rights.
If people who believe in liberty do not get this correct – and it no longer possible to stand on the sidelines – we will find ourselves siding with the state, the courts, the thugs, and even the international enforcement arm of the military industrial complex, all in the name of property rights. And that is a very dangerous thing at this point in history, since IP enforcement has become one of the greatest threats to liberty that we face today.