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December 03, 2007

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And not only does the baby get a life, adoptive agencies are typically pretty picky about the families they accept as adoptive ones: the baby can be thought to be getting a better life than the average child that is born.

"From an evolutionary psychology perspective this whole situation seems as strange as having to pay men to be sperm donors"

"Adaptation-executors, not--"

"It is in general a good thing if willing women are induced by money to have babies families want to adopt. Not only do the woman and the family benefit, but the baby gets a life! Positive externalities don't get much larger than this. We need lower, not higher, barriers to such exchange"

Ethnic Genetic Interests (EGI) is a concept developed by Frank Salter. It might help reveal why this analysis is too simplistic.

I agree it's reprehensible that the Guatemalan gov't is seeking to "protect" women from making the choice to put their babies up for adoption. I'd only add that the wrong-headedness of such protection is exhibited in other related policy areas: access to contraception and access to abortions. In Guatemala, over a quarter of all births are unplanned (access to contraception is particularly low among poor women, and women living in rural areas - the very women who are handing over so many of their children to the jaladores mentioned in the article); combining unplanned births with abortions yields estimates that 32% of pregnancies in Guatemala are unintended(see this report from the Guttmacher Institute http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/3213606.html#12). Since abortions, except to save the life of the mother, are illegal (yet more government protection from bad choices), most abortions are clandestine, and unsafe. As a result, mortality related to abortion complications are the third leading cause of death for women of reproductive age.
Taken together, these policies seem to indicate rather little interest in protecting women, except from making choices that government policy makers (and the Catholic Church) don't approve of.

We need lower, not higher, barriers to such exchange.

Given a few precautions (reasonable maternity wards, cash-on-delivery ^_^ rather than payment in advance, a limit of one baby per woman per two years, a simple legal framework sorting out what contact rights the mother may or may not have in future with her adopted child), I'm all for it. With one big caveat.

Guatemala is a developing nation, which probably means strong family bonds and a lesser position for women (please correct me if I'm wrong here). If the value generated by a woman for getting pregnant is higher than the value of the work she does (which for poor Guatemalans wouldn't be hard), then there will be huge pressure on the women to become nothing more than baby-factories. Not from touts (who can only offer money) but from family, who can offer guilt, ostracism, praise and everyday pressure.

This would result in individual women choosing to get pregnant far more than they would desire; spread over an entire class, it would undermine long-term improvements to the country (those caused by better educated woman, or a larger female workforce).

But if that problem can be sorted out (or never materialises) then I'm all for it.

Not only do the woman and the family benefit, but the baby gets a life!

It is not clear what do you mean when you say that "the baby gets a life". You might be saying that a baby, who already exists in the womb, is delivered rather than aborted. Or you might be saying that a baby, who hasn't yet been conceived, is allowed to develop in the womb until birth instead of never been brought into existence. Most people believe it is a neutral rather than a good thing that new people are caused to exist, provided that they are expected to live lives worth living (if their lives are not expectedly worthwhile, causing them to exist is a bad thing). So on the second reading, your claim is at best controversial. And if we go for the first reading, your justification doesn't apply to those cases where the monetary incentives induce women to conceive when they wouldn't have otherwise. The final paragraph in the quote above suggests that incentives have had this effect quite frequently.

Excellent post. Guatemalan government may see such transactions bad but this is a perfect example for a Pareto efficiency. A tribute to Prof. Posner and Elisabeth Landes who had that idea in mind 20 years ago.

On my way to visit Tikal in Guatemala, my tour guide proudly noted how development agencies had helped the local village switch to producing art, rather than the usual exports. It seemed such agencies valued art production well beyond the income it brings.

A bit more context here? Was he proud of the fact that (his?) local village was producing art (a hint that it's a good thing) or proud of the fact they were following the advice of a foreign agency (a bad thing). Are bananas truly more profitable than art? Which is a more risky strategy?

Their priorities, art over bananas over babies, are the opposite of mine.
Interestingly, they seem to value these in precise order of the skills they develop among the population. Something to keep in mind, there - maybe development agencies are more interested in developing skills that developing profitable industries.

It's just another application of division of labor. The people who are better at making babies end up having the kids for the rest of the economy.

I assume selling babies is outrageous because the idea is that you don't give your baby away generally, that a mother has a strong disposition to stay with her baby, and that in the ancrestral environment mothers who traded their babies away tended to not pass on their genes readily. This might not be the case anymore, but it would take time for selection pressures to change the way we humans are naturally.

Also, is there evidence that poor people tend to make less rational decisions? I thought I read something about that somewhere--IIRC, what I read explained that there tended to be a higher discount rate among poor people. Could it be that a poor mother sells her child because of a high discount rate, and then regrets it in the future, and that the government, or cultural institutions that program people's reposnses to some extent, represent the voice of reason--sort of like an people making an intervention in the life of someone doing drugs?

Could it be that a poor mother sells her child because of a high discount rate, and then regrets it in the future, and that the government, or cultural institutions that program people's reposnses to some extent, represent the voice of reason--sort of like an people making an intervention in the life of someone doing drugs?

Remember the other side of the coin. Governments (to some extent) and cultural institutions (massively) also determine what is reasonable. If abortion is demonised by an influential church, then anyone going through an abortion will suffer social ostracism; ergo the best thing for them is not have an abortion, advice that the reasonable church will be happy to provide...

Taken together, these policies seem to indicate rather little interest in protecting women

That worries me a lot, and is giving me cool feet. I'm wondering if when I saw money flowing happily to poor women through this deal, I'm not making the same mistake as those who advocate fair trade. I.E. the profits will not got to the poor woman/farm worker but to the father/husband/landlord, and will only end up making life much more difficult for the not-fertile women.

(Apologies if I am wrong, and fair trade has a large positive impact - that was not my impression for the moment).

Not only do the woman and the family benefit, but the baby gets a life!

So not only are existing children who desperately need to be adopted passed over, but we have another mouth to feed - and a First World, American mouth at that, which will consume far more resources than tend Third Worlders combined.

You seem to be ignoring the obvious negative consequences. Why do you think that is?

April, yes, the abortion and adoption rules together limit plausible theories about what exactly is the concern.

Stuart, I'd want more concrete evidence that improved female job options hurt females on net before limiting job options on this basis. I think he saw art as high status.

Pablo, I think it is a very good thing that I was brought into existence.

Mike, higher discount rates are not obviously less rational.

Caledonian, I don't think an American mouth has a net negative externality.

Robin, I should have probably said that the discount rate was hyperbolic (perhaps more so than what is normal in humans--I believe generally humans tend to discount the future too much). In other words, women who sell their babies might not realize how costly it would be for them in the future, in terms of say, depression et c. Perhaps taboos about selling babies represents the forgotten wisdom of the past, when people did such things and regretted it, and made the acts taboo.

I would guess, then, that the price that would be demanded by mothers if they generally had a better sense of the full costs of selling their babies, would be so high there would be very few buyers. I assume the ones who don't know as well the value would drive down the price for babies below what is sensible if people were rational and had more information. But they incur a cost on others around them who see the act and find it distasteful, based perhaps on their natures, fitted for the ancestral environment.

Of course, evidence of this would probably be gathered by letting people sell babies, and see how they react.

Robin, do you think your being brought into existence was a good thing because it was good for the human being brought into existence, or do you think it was good for other reasons?

I would guess, then, that the price that would be demanded by mothers if they generally had a better sense of the full costs of selling their babies, would be so high there would be very few buyers.

So you believe that American mothers who give up their children for adoption (for free - the mother makes no money) are all making a mistake? Every one? Not a single one has good reasons for giving up her baby? Does this extend to abortion? If there cannot possibly be any good reason for a woman to give up her baby for adoption, then does it follow that there cannot possibly be any good reason for a woman to have an abortion? Or is there some vast gulf between these two cases, making abortion often a sensible and wise decision but giving up for adoption always a foolish decision that no mother in her right mind would make?

Constant,

Very challenging questions. I'll give a stab at answering them, though I think there's some shakiness in my answer. Here it is:

I don't think giving a child up for adoption is a mistake necessarily. I imagine many mothers regret it, but the alternative may be more painful for them and the child. With adoption there is at least an illusion of altruism. "I'm not doing this for me, but for you, my little baby."

Selling your baby diminishes or destroys this illusion, which might be in part why its unpopular. I think it might be an inbuilt quality in humans, who are socialanimals, to want strongly to signal to others that we're altruistic. If you consider selling your baby, it might make sense to consider the cost it will have on your reputation, which perhaps is steep (perhaps very very steep in the ancestral environment). If you put your child up for adoption, you diminish the damage or prevent the signal to others of your lack of altruism.

My impression of abortion is it has more to do with a belief that the child has yet to become a person in some sense, and so aborting is preempting the creation of a child, the way wearing a condom is, et c.

Anyway, I'm speculating on empirical questions, and am open to all evidence! One bit of useful evidence would be to allow baby selling and conventional adoption in one state and see how people choose.

David Benatar and Chip Smith argue that the greatest harm is being born in the first place and that the practice should be ended. The former wrote the book Better Never to Have Been and the latter has been writing an unfinished series on anti-natalism: one two three four.

Oiknomos, you might be interested in what they have to say about Frank Salter's ideas at Gene Expression

As well as signalling to others, our actions signal to ourselves. (We have less direct knowledge of ourselves than we like to imagine.) Selling a child signals -- not only to others but to yourself too -- a not-very-high value on that child's life (this isn't rational, of course) and on bringing the child up yourself (this one is rational, I think). Therefore a society in which this happens a lot will tend to be one in which people are seen to value, and see themselves as valuing (and perhaps therefore actually value), their children less. This could be a very bad thing.

(Disclaimer: I haven't a shred of communicable evidence for any of the psychological claims in the foregoing paragraph.)

TGGP,

I appreciate the link, its good to know what the web's authoritative source on pop-sci has to say about the topic. However, I find the author's objections to the theory of Ethnic Genetic Interests to be trivial.

Contrary to what is maintained on that particular page, that website (GeneXP) had intensely political birth-pangs. This however belongs to that list of things one is not supposed to know about. Unlike the moral propriety of buying and selling Guatemalan babies, which incidentally is the topic of this thread.

Oiknom.

Robin, April and others,

If a mother gives away her baby free - fine.

If you can create such markets on babies - in Guatemala - that a mother can exercise her free will at all stages until final closure of the deal - fine. The problem is you can´t. And that is why the answer should be no.

With very few exceptions, the preferences of mothers change dramatically after childbirth. The price at which they would sell their children will go from multiple to infinity relative to what it was during pregnancy. This is not due to the discount on advance payments we know from accounting, but to brain chemistry.

If you create markets on babies, it will hardly feasible to effectively exclude that babies are sold before childbirth. Neither can it be excluded that the deals are signed with a huge discounts relative to the mother´s expected preferences after childbirth. Quite on the opposite, as markets would clear easier during the time period before childbirth, this would probably be the most frequent case (especially as your broker who gets his cut from the margin would be highly aware of this).

In most civilized countries we have the moral and legal conception that a will/testament which does not reflect the true intent of the testor is not binding. A will is about money. Babies is something which most humans value even higher than money, at least mothers do. I don´t see why we should be less cranky about the concept of free will coercion when we deal with transactions on babies than with monetary values.

As Stuart already pointed out in an above post, the negotiating power of poor Guatemalan women regarding their own choices is not quite what we would whish it would be. Due to this and to the expected excess in discount we thus risk a situation on the market on babies that a) mothers are not adequately compensated and/or b) mothers are deprived of their children under extreme pressure from their social environment.

A market which does not respond to the legitimate need of protection of all parties involved quickly becomes a public issue -even if there are indirectly benefiting third parties such as unborn babies and adopting families. I believe this is what the Guatemalan government is at.

Talking about biases - I believe most of us are wealthy Northern Americans? I would love to hear the biased opinion of a Guatemalan social worker.

Talking about biases - I believe most of us are wealthy Northern Americans? I would love to hear the biased opinion of a Guatemalan social worker.

The main opinion-forming element here being "social worker", not "Guatemalan". So we should restate the above as follows:

"Talk about biases. I believe most of us are not government employees whose livelihoods depend on government having power over the lives of people. I would love to hear whether such a government worker will come up with reasons for keeping himself or herself employed."

Keep in mind the $3000 is a payment in (I believe) a black market. That price would plummet. Though if people are morally outraged by some women giving up their babies for $3000, presumably that would only get worse if they gave them up for $100, which is itself indicative of odd reasoning.

Second, the buyers would probably get upset by this, both because of an aversion to paying people for their kids and outrage at the markups (If I could go there and pay $3000 (or less) cash, why am I paying $40,000 to some guy in a suit?). It would be likely that many Americans adopting these children would try to require they come from mothers who weren't paid, though enforceability might be an issue.

And it's harder to attract people to adopt children from poverty-stricken people who had kids to sell them than from just plain-poverty stricken people who had kids.

In short, opening it up to the free market would probably induce a demand-side shift, so it seems foolish to assume the prices or mechanics would stay the same in any way.

Oh, and Oiknomos - "This pseudoscience would change our expectations in X way" would have been a lot more useful than "This pseudoscience might change how you evaluate this if you think about it" without specifics.

A market in which women are paid to have babies which they then give up already exists. These women are called surrogate mothers. Illegal some places but legal other places. A quick Google search suggests that surrogate mothers earn thousands of dollars, sometimes tens of thousands.

Robin,

Did you just commit the lucky souls fallacy!?

[T]he possible people implicit in couples' germ cells are not actual people, and therefore do not have preferences. Conception and birth are preconditions for having preferences. I call this the "lucky souls fallacy". Imagine pre-actual persons gathered outside the gate of existence. Each soul holds a number in its tiny incorporeal hands, badly hoping to be called. An ethereal presence stands at the gate shouting numbers. Lucky souls get to go to the front of the line, through the gate, and straight into a real pulsing zygote.

Only thus does the "decision to have kids" create a "massive benefit" to the kid. Lucky soul! But Mr Mankiw is right. What childbirth does is create a life -- a new nexus of benefits and harms, a new container of utility (to be reductively economistic about it). But by itself reproduction confers no benefit on the child produced, since there was no prior hollow soul longing to be filled by the breath of being.

A good positivist, Mr Mankiw avoids talk of souls and simply speaks of what may be observed. He is to be commended for his professionalism. But his sound point is rather clearer if we dabble in cartoon theology. It is then vivid that the decision not to have the next child will leave some unlucky soul dejected and unrealised. If having a kid benefits the kid, then not having a kid harms the kid-that-might-have-been. Even on his own terms, Mr Glaeser has his priorities confused. Fertile citizens that have no or few children are creating massive negative externalities on the plane of inexistence. So these selfish louts must be taxed at punishingly high rates to induce them to stop causing so much pain and breed already. Who will think of the pure, shining, innocent baby souls?

Constant, when you said The main opinion-forming element here being "social worker", not "Guatemalan", what was your evidence that that is in fact the main "opinion-forming element"?

Also, could you explain in a little more detail how you got from what Mikael said to "I would love to hear whether such a government worker will come up with reasons for keeping himself or herself employed"; I don't quite understand how any of "there should be a free market in babies", "there should be heavy regulation on the buying and selling of babies", or even "it should be absolutely forbidden to buy or sell babies", has anything to do with whether social workers are employed or not.

Will Wilkinson -

One can posit a positive externality for the production of a human being without referring to the concept of a soul - simply by assuming that most people have a net positive influence upon the world. (In terms of economy, say, by assuming - quite rightly, historically - that on average a human being produces more than he or she consumes.)

Constant, when you said The main opinion-forming element here being "social worker", not "Guatemalan", what was your evidence that that is in fact the main "opinion-forming element"?

Let me rephrase. How odd it is that the person I was quoting didn't say just "Guatemalan" and instead said "Guatemalan social worker". The reasoning leading up to the mention only mentioned our nationality and therefore only supported "Guatemalan", not "social worker".

That unsupported insertion of "social worker" is rather odd and begs for explanation. If you don't like my explanation, feel free to supply your own.

I don't quite understand how any of "there should be a free market in babies", "there should be heavy regulation on the buying and selling of babies", or even "it should be absolutely forbidden to buy or sell babies", has anything to do with whether social workers are employed or not.

I don't understand how you don't understand. Let's try something similar. Do you understand how "pharmaceuticals should be regulated and not simply handed out freely by pharmacists" has anything to do with whether doctors are employed or not?

Robin: «Not only do the woman and the family benefit, but the baby gets a life!»
Pablo: «...you might be saying that a baby, who hasn't yet been conceived, is allowed to develop in the womb until birth instead of never been brought into existence. Most people believe it is a neutral rather than a good thing that new people are caused to exist»
Robin: «I think it is a very good thing that I was brought into existence.»

Come on, Robin, you can do better than that. Either you admit your utterance is paraconsistent (when the baby "gets a life" either he/she already has one or has not, but in either case he/she can never possibly receive one, as he/she already has one or doesn't exist) or you'll have to argue a bit more, to avoid being labeled as a pro-life anti-rationalist. ;-)

Boy, I'd like to be with you here. But, this borders on trafficking in people, so I think there are problems. We're talking about people here. Just for starters, we're talking about a 9 month gestation. Talk to any inventory manager in an industry with 9 month production times, and you'll find it's a bit hairy. It's one thing to have a bunch of airplanes sitting in the hangar with no buyers. It's another thing to have extra babies sitting around. Imagine that there is a string of hepatitis or something in Guatamalan babies, it hits the media & suddenly the demand for Guatemalan babies dries up. 9 months later you've got 5,000 unwanted babies piling up. That's a hell of an inventory problem.

I find it curious that I've come to the end of this thread about the buying and selling of babies and nobody has mentioned the elephant in the room: Slavery. Given that slavery is a great moral evil, is there a way to buy and sell children that prevents the evil of slavery? I don't see any evil in adoption. Nor do I see any evil in a woman giving up a child for adoption, or in getting paid for her time and effort. The tout, the lawyer, and the social worker (whose livelihoods depend on putting up barriers against adoption) are in less morally clear positions. I do not believe that human life is a bad thing, but rather a good. And I certainly believe that free exchange of goods and services, leading to specialization, is a good thing.

If the baby grows up to be a free, educated adult (not enslaved) who can make a positive contribution to society and humanity, without being abused along the way, then it's all good.

But if the baby grows up to be an enslaved adult, or one who is unable to make a positive contribution to society or becomes a parasite or criminal, then it's bad.

How can adoption, even adoption with pay going to the mother, be structured to maximize the first probability and minimize the second? Are government adoption agencies able to achieve these goals or should adoptions be handled by churches or some other types of (for profit) organizations rather than governments?

Vasco, you're ignoring the net externality of a higher population. I generally don't side with Robin, but I am definitively siding with him now - a higher population is, all other things being equal, a good thing. It permits greater mental connectivity - the same number of people across a greater span of time cannot produce the same level of invention, for the simple reason that they cannot engage in bidirectional communication. One genius may develop only upon his own ideas, and those before him - two geniuses may develop upon the ideas of one another, expanding upon the limits each individually would come up against, whichever order they would otherwise have come in. Thus a positive net externality for a birth. (Not to mention the economic benefits that specialization brings.)

And a positive benefit for the baby, in that it is being adopted by a first-world family which is more capable of providing for it.

And a positive benefit for the birth parents, at least genetically. (Indeed, fantastically well, genetically) Potentially positive benefits also include a "way out" of abortion, which has been mentioned above.

The only negative impact I see is upon the genetic efficiency of the host mother and father, who, after all, are devoting resources to developing somebody else's children.

Constant, I thought the most obvious reason for inserting "social worker" was because social workers are good candidates for people who have met a lot of poor and/or vulnerable people and paid attention to their quality of life. (So it didn't, and still doesn't, seem to me like an odd insertion at all.)

As for social workers' keeping themselves employed, etc., thanks for the clarification. It's entirely unobvious to me from the WaPo article just what sort of supervision the Guatemalan government is proposing to put in place and whether it would actually mean a lot more work for social workers or only for bureaucrats, but let's suppose for the sake of argument that regulating baby-trafficking would in fact provide more jobs for social workers.

Then: 1. I agree that a Guatemalan social worker's opinion would have some bias in it. (But, duh, Mikael already admitted that. "I would love to hear the biased opinion of a Guatemalan social worker.") 2. It seems like you're suggesting that this bias makes their answer a foregone conclusion, but I don't see why. It's not as if saying "no more regulation" would mean they'd be out of a job. (Any Guatemalan social worker, as such, *has* a job despite the current low level of regulation.) And it seems easy to think of questions to which one answer would mean plenty more work for social workers but to which most social workers would answer the other way. ("Should it be compulsory to get an evaluation from a social worker before getting married?", "Should every person in the country, without exception, have an assigned social worker who meets with them for an hour every day?".)

And a positive benefit for the birth parents, at least genetically. (Indeed, fantastically well, genetically)
The only negative impact I see is upon the genetic efficiency of the host mother and father

Not morally relevant.

Stuart: Great point.

People have a "yuck" reaction to money being mixed with childbirth (or organs, sex...). Also, people are appalled at conditions where a woman sees it as a good option to become pregnant and give up her child for $3000 - $11 a day - but they see the transaction as a problem rather than the conditions (possibly because they just don't want to be reminded of poverty).

I guess I should write a post soon explaining why I think it is good to create people whose lives are worth living.

It seems like you're suggesting that this bias makes their answer a foregone conclusion, but I don't see why. It's not as if saying "no more regulation" would mean they'd be out of a job.

Metrics or vouchers don't mean that public school teachers would be out of a job, but guess how public school teachers feel about metrics and vouchers.

And it seems easy to think of questions to which one answer would mean plenty more work for social workers but to which most social workers would answer the other way.

Yes: questions where there is no easy way to disguise the self-interest of taking the self-interested position.

Oiknomos, godless was rather candid about their political origins fairly recently at 2Blowhards, but he hasn't posted any topics at GNXP for a while now and in general the contributors seem less political (perhaps I came to the site too late to know, but I suspect some of them edged too close to the neocon bandwagon and got mugged by reality).

Some relevant writings on the current topic are Steven Pinker on infanticide and Judith Harris on maternal selection.

It is in general a good thing if willing women are induced by money to have babies families want to adopt. Not only do the woman and the family benefit, but the baby gets a life!

This assertion isn't only controversial; it's absurd. The comments here appear to have a male bias.

Women don't benefit from being economically pressured into producing babies. The men do, however. A woman's pregnancy is no way comparable to a male's sperm donation. Nobody here seemed to mention the physical strain of carrying a fetus for nine months. The fetus is essentially a parasite, drawing nutrients from the pregnant woman. If food is limited, the food the woman eats is diverted to building up the muscles and tissue of the fetus. She also loses a lot of calcium, which may weaken her bones in the long run.

On the other hand, a man's contribution to reproduction is only his DNA.

If a woman "benefits" from having a baby in exchange for money, why do women with more economic freedom choose to not have children, even if it's against their genetic interests? It's silly to reduce a woman's "benefit" to only her "genetic benefit", as genetic benefit itself seems to be biased in favour of males.

This--in addition to issues concerning transnational adoption that the author seems to be unaware of which harm the adoptee--makes me very disappointed in this blog. I am saddened that I have to witness such a degree of bias in a blog about overcoming bias.


I am saddened that I have to witness such a degree of bias in a blog about overcoming bias.

Yay! Robin Hanson gets these comments too! I'm glad I'm not the only author here who occasionally ticks people off.

Robin: «I guess I should write a post soon explaining why I think it is good to create people whose lives are worth living.»

Good for us that are already here, not good for the to-be-born-or-not baby. My point is that the decision of having or not a baby is morally neutral *with respect to* the baby himself. When he's born (or conceived), he's born. End of story. There is no "Good, the baby gets a life!". Either it doesn't exist (and there's no subject) or he does and has been given a life. A baby cannot not be given life.

(I think this also replies to Adirian.)

Yes, it does, Vasco.

As for the individual who claimed genetic selectivity is not morally charged, that genetics are not morally relevant - there is nothing more important to morality than reality. The theory of morality must describe something related to reality, in order to be meaningful - say, a utility function to maximize happiness.

To say that anything, anything at all, is not morally relevant - is to say that that something is not real. Everything has moral relevance. I choose to favour my own genes over those of others - for reasons I regard as moral. After all, I am the product of a genetic investment whose repayment is in my own reproduction. I fail to be worth the expense my genetic predecessors put into me if I fail in that regard - after all, I fail to pay the only price of my own existence, the natural contract by which I came into being. There is a great deal of moral relevance there, and a great topic for moral debate. Agree or disagree, the idea that genetics are morally irrelevant is nonsense.

"It's silly to reduce a woman's "benefit" to only her "genetic benefit", as genetic benefit itself seems to be biased in favour of males."

- I didn't, at least. There were two benefits I mentioned. The first is a way out of dangerous illegal abortions - legal abortions are better, of course, but a socially acceptable alternative should not be ruled out because the best choice isn't available.

And to say that genetic benefit is biased in favour of males does nothing to eliminate said genetic benefit to females. Males almost always get the better genetic deal, after all - the disparity in initial investment is constant. The mother benefits in this case to as great a degree as a female may without expensive intervention of modern medical techniques, whose cost in this case would be prohibitive. The mother still pays, essentially, the absolute minimum in genetic cost, while getting back, genetically, significantly more than could otherwise be the case. (Her child is not only raised, but raised in much, MUCH better conditions than she could otherwise provide.)

My point is that "benefit" for a woman is not equivalent to "genetic benefit" for a woman. What is in the woman's best interest isn't necessarily the same as what is in her genes' best interest.

That arrangement--giving birth to a child and selling it--may be optimal in terms of genetic proliferation, but it is not necessarily optimal in terms of other goals, such as the woman's happiness, for example.

I didn't mean to imply that it was, nor that it should be held to be an individual's exclusive goal. I regard genetic proliferation as a virtue in itself - but would not, even were I to think it would maximize such a virtue, go around raping individuals, for the simple reason that this infringes upon fulfillment of other values, of which personal freedom is one of them. It is simply one of many things that may be considered, when weighing a decision.

Constant, would you like to present some actual evidence that social workers' opinions on this subject would be so biased as to be useless, or do you prefer to go on blowing smoke?

AWPOV, whether "having a baby in exchange for money" is a net benefit to a woman could surely depend on how much money and how valuable that money is to her. More or less parallel: would you argue "If a person benefits from doing a job in exchange for money, why do independently wealthy people often not take jobs?"? And, on the face of it, the fact that they're prepared to do it suggests that *compared to the other options open to them* they consider it a benefit.

(Other commentators have suggested some reasons why they might be wrong, or why their actions might not actually indicate that they consider what they're doing a net benefit to themselves. They may very well be right.)

Stuart, I'd want more concrete evidence that improved female job options hurt females on net before limiting job options on this basis.

That should be easy enough to figure out - either through a pilot program or looking at other countries where pay-for-adoption is more the norm (implicitly or explicitly).

Yay! Robin Hanson gets these comments too! I'm glad I'm not the only author here who occasionally ticks people off.
I did a few posts, and never got any serious accusations of bias - I must be doing something wrong! ;-)

Constant, would you like to present some actual evidence that social workers' opinions on this subject would be so biased as to be useless, or do you prefer to go on blowing smoke?

Someone picks out, specifically, Guatemalan social workers, instead of simply Guatemalans, and I am not allowed to question this curious choice aloud? Frankly, the point I'm making seems rather obvious, and it is easy to support, and I've already supported it, and I can further support it. For whatever reason, you don't think the reasons I've so far given constitute "actual evidence". What would constitute "actual evidence"? Do you want me to find actual online articles that support my contention that social workers can be relied on, because of their economic position, to give kneejerk support to paternalism, given that the social worker is the foot soldier of paternalism? Sure I can supply those, but so can you by Googling. I Googled and easily found many links like this one to JSTOR. I don't know if it'll work - it has weird characters. The article is titled "Paternalism Among Social Agency Employees." I will quote a bit from the article in case the link does not work.

It was argued then and is still argued now that social agency employees have a paternalistic attitude toward those they serve - the poor. According to some observers, staff members in social agencies regard their clients as irresopnsible and thus in need of being treated like children

The article is here is not speaking on behalf of the authors (who could have their own minority view) but relating well known views by way of introduction ("it is still argued now" and "according to some observers"). References such as this one are easily multiplied. I should not need to link to them however, because the point is so obvious.

If you look at the comment I was replying to, it was paternalistic through and through, consisting of an argument from beginning to end that people can't be trusted to make the right decisions for themselves because of the situation they are in. Right after making this paternalistic argument, he appeals to social workers. It's somehow wrong of me to point out the obvious here? My original point was no more than a brief reminder of the obvious. You want to drag it out. Fine.

If we really wanted to maximize efficiency, you could set up a hospital where Guatemalans could volunteer for drug trials, deliver their babies for sale, sell organs, etc. That would be right next to the tourist brothel and up the street from the toxic waste unloading dock. The really enterprising Guatemalan could unload waste in the morning, sell her organs in the afternoon, and serve tourists at night. And who would want to limit her options?

Constant,
You got your explanation from g already:

“I thought the most obvious reason for inserting "social worker" was because social workers are good candidates for people who have met a lot of poor and/or vulner-able people and paid attention to their quality of life. “
I thought it was obvious too, sorry for the confusion. Key here is that those Guatemalan moth-ers’ preferences, due to way markets function, are the most intriguing part of the whole baby business. I believe a Guatemalan social worker would have lots of relevant information for all of us. With this, I hope we can leave the supposed tendency of various government employees and doctors to employ themselves aside.

In my remark that most of us are Northern Americans I was insinuating that we tend to side with the interest of those we have the strongest social bonds with, but seldom as clearly as in this de-bate. I apologize if you feel offended.

“A market in which women are paid to have babies which they then give up al-ready exists. These women are called surrogate mothers. Illegal some places but legal other places”

I suppose this came in my direction too? Let´s at first take a wild guess why it might be illegal in some places:

In most civilized countries the system works in such a way that the mother has a more or less effective exit option. However, we have good reasons to assume that mothers in other countries – such as Guatemala - don´t (if you think this is not a problem, I have very little more to say to make you convinced). Further, we can’t address this tendency of the market.

I babbled a lot on i) the structural discount problem with signing the deal before delivering, ii) value of the exercise of free will and iii) the poor negotiation power of Guatemalan women, which build up to above statements. Last, I wish to point out that, without diving into details, surrogate mothers is not quite the same as the baby business this topic is about.

Overcoming biases is an intellectual game, but if it’s part of a public issue as well, there are some real world fundaments that need to be taken into account. We have no use of the positive externalities in the baby market, when market actors di-rectly involved in the production risk being seriously deprived of what is commonly perceived as their legitimate rights.

Constant,

"If you look at the comment I was replying to, it was paternalistic through and through, consisting of an argument from beginning to end that people can't be trusted to make the right decisions for themselves because of the situation they are in."

Do you also think that regulation on child labor is paternalistic? Or regulation on working conditions? Or regulation on dangerous contents in foodstuffs? Or antitrust control? Regulation of the financial markets?

I could give you many more examples of regulation that protects weak and uninformed market agents, prone to negative consequences of actions of more powerful agents on an uncontrolled market. What absence of such appropriate regulation leads to has been tested over and over again. Take the subprime loan crisis as a recent example.

Unless you are a hunter gatherer, you will recognize that you yourself are protected by regulation that you would never want to give up, which by all standards is equally "paternalistic" as government control in the baby business.

If you don´t need protection in the Guatemalan baby business, maybe somebody else does?

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