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Jewish World Review May 1, 2002 / 19 Iyar, 5762

Walter Williams

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Consumer Reports

Who should decide? | There are six-person and there are three-person families. So is it fair that a six-person family live crowded in a 1,500 square foot house, while that three-person family enjoys 5,000 square feet?

It's the same thing with cars. I've seen five-person families squeezed into a Honda and two-person families riding comfortably in a Lexus SUV. Sometimes checking into a hotel, there's a husband, accompanied by a wife and three children, asking for two roll-away cots to be placed in the room, while Mrs. Williams and I check into a spacious suite with a sitting room.

Is any of this fair? Shouldn't there be some kind of committee to decide which family deserves and gets the larger house or roomier car, and which family should have the more spacious hotel accommodations?

You say: "Williams, you've finally lost it. Can you imagine all the hassle and conflict that would result from some want-to-be tyrants deciding who should get what? Moreover, who in their right mind would produce homes, cars and hotels if some wacko communistic scheme decided who gets what, instead of the way we now do it -- through prices people are willing to pay?" You're right, and your reasoning also applies to organ transplants. Let's look at it.

Last December, Larry Kramer, founder of Gay Men's Health Crisis and ACT UP, received a liver transplant at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Kramer is 66 and a homosexual with AIDS, who spent seven months on the organ transplant waiting list. When the news broke about his having received a liver transplant, there was outrage on the talk radio circuit. Talk show hosts and their callers decried Kramer's transplant, arguing there were needier and more deserving people waiting around for livers. Some callers argued that people with self-inflicted illnesses, such as AIDS, obesity or smoking-related cancers, shouldn't receive organ transplants, or at least should have the lowest priority.

All of that is nonsense. Who gets what organ transplant should be decided using the same mechanism as we use to decide who gets what house, car or hotel room -- namely, prices.

In other words, there should be a market for buying and selling organs. The greatest salutatory effect of an organ market would be a massive increase in the supply of organs. For example, I should be able to write a contract to sell my organs, say, to Body Parts, Inc., for $300,000. The proceeds might become a part of my estate. At my death, my organs would be harvested and the $300,000 paid to my estate.

Most people think organ donations are the way to go. For those people, I'd like to ask: What else would they like to see provided through donations? Cars are important. Why not provide them through donations? What about houses, food, clothing, medicine, doctor and plumbing services? If these goods and services were mandated to be provided through donations, we'd have the same supply problems as we have with livers, hearts and kidneys.

An organ market would eliminate the arbitrariness of doctors and bureaucrats sitting around like gods, deciding who will die and who will live.

You say, "Williams, with market allocation of organs, only the rich would be served." Nonsense. I'd like to see the evidence for such a conclusion. Is it only the rich who have cars or homes or hotel rooms and are able to acquire loans?

The great unappreciated advantage of market allocation of goods and services is that it reduces the potential for human conflict. Why is it that we see conflict in who gets what organ or what's taught in public schools, and no conflict in who gets what car, home or what's taught in private schools? The answer ought to tell us something.

Walter Williams Archives


© 2002, Creators Syndicate