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The Price is Wrong: Causes and Consequences of Ethical Restraint of Trade


  • Leonard Thomas C.

    (Princeton University)


Critics of commodification object to sales but not gifts of some goods, such as human blood or human organs, on grounds that such trade wrongly coerces, morally corrupts, and crowds out altruism. This essay takes issues with each of these claims. It disputes Micheal Sandels claim that voluntary exchange coerces, arguing that he confuses what is unfair with what is unfree. It argues, where trade does create moral costs, that these costs should be weighed against the moral costs of trade bans, such as the loss of human life, and the harms endemic to illegal markets. The essay also quarrels with Richard Titmusss The Gift Relationship, arguing that compensation for blood need not crowd out blood donation, that compensation does not preclude a charitable impulse, and that some important gift relationship (e.g., philanthropy) posses elements of altruism and exchange.Ceux qui critiquent la marchandisation sont contre la vente mais pas contre le don de certains biens comme le sang ou les organes humains parce quun tel commerce exercerait une contrainte, corromprait morallement, et ne laisserait pas de place à laltruisme. Ce papier traite de chacune de ces affirmations. Il consteste laffirmation de Micheal Sandel selon laquelle léchange volontaire exerce une contrainte, en suggérant quil confond ce qui injuste avec ce qui nest pas libre. Si le commerce entraîne des coûts moraux, cet essai suggère que ces coûts devraient être comparés avec les coûts moraux associés aux interdictions de commerce tels que la perte de la vie humaine et ceux associés aux maux endémiques des marchés illégaux. Il critique aussi louvrage de Richard Titmuss, The Gift Relationship en suggérant que les compensations monétaires en échange dun don de sang névincent pas nécessairement le don de sang, quelles nempêchent pas les impulsions charitables, et que dimportants actes de don (ex: philantropie) comportent des éléments daltruisme et déchange.

Suggested Citation

  • Leonard Thomas C., 2004. "The Price is Wrong: Causes and Consequences of Ethical Restraint of Trade," Journal des Economistes et des Etudes Humaines, De Gruyter, vol. 14(2), pages 1-20, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:bpj:jeehcn:v:14:y:2004:i:2:n:8

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Sen, Amartya Kumar, 1970. "The Impossibility of a Paretian Liberal," Scholarly Articles 3612779, Harvard University Department of Economics.
    2. Gary S. Becker & Julio Jorge Elías, 2007. "Introducing Incentives in the Market for Live and Cadaveric Organ Donations," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(3), pages 3-24, Summer.
    3. Sen, Amartya, 1970. "The Impossibility of a Paretian Liberal," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 78(1), pages 152-157, Jan.-Feb..
    4. Frey, Bruno S & Oberholzer-Gee, Felix, 1997. "The Cost of Price Incentives: An Empirical Analysis of Motivation Crowding-Out," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(4), pages 746-755, September.
    5. Philippe Fontaine, 2002. "Blood, Politics, and Social Science," Post-Print halshs-00010049, HAL.
    6. Glazer, Amihai & Konrad, Kai A, 1996. "A Signaling Explanation for Charity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(4), pages 1019-1028, September.
    7. Kessel, Reuben A, 1974. "Transfused Blood, Serum Hepatitis, and the Coase Theorem," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 17(2), pages 265-289, October.
    8. Levy, David M., 2001. "How the Dismal Science Got its Name: Debating Racial Quackery," Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Cambridge University Press, vol. 23(01), pages 5-35, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Alvin E. Roth, 2007. "Repugnance as a Constraint on Markets," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(3), pages 37-58, Summer.

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