Saturday, October 14, 2006

Markets in everything: murder

At Marginal Revolution, the article Rent Seeking Kills makes an argument to legalize organ sales.

One respondant writes:

The people who are worried about slayings committed to involuntariyly harvest human organs are jumping at shadows. It might happen once in a great while under a regime of legalized organ sales, but far less than under a black-market regime. If anything, the option to pay for an organ from a voluntary donor is a substitute for knocking someone on the head and stealing it.

Outside the fact that this fellow has no real evidence about frequency (he's merely asserting it), we might ask if this same argument applies to murder. Right now there's a black market in murder: should taking lives be marketized?

A common theme at Marginal Revolution is "markets in everything". A common libertarian fantasy. So what would a murder market look like?

If you wanted to murder, perhaps you'd be required to negotiate for suicide, or buy a hunting/execution permit.

Or perhaps people would be issued a "life rights" deed, which they could hold onto or sell. The holder of the deed would be able to kill the "property" at whim.

We can explore this, but the basic problem is what societal purposes are being served with the creation of this market?

Additionally, our initial revulsion at this concept indicates subtle problems due to undermining of traditional underpinnings of our social institutions, especially the basic liberal assumptions of bodily security which are essential to political and commercial activity.


Anonymous said...

Or perhaps people would be issued a "life rights" deed, which they could hold onto or sell. The holder of the deed would be able to kill the "property" at whim.

Suppose a rich guy buys up a lot of these "life rights" so he can "hunt" these people on his estate. Would even libertarians feel comfortable having a predator in their midst who buys the right to murder voluntary victims on his own property?

John said...

It's a misconceived hypothetical. The touchstone of "murder" is (or at least should be) defined by the lack of consent on the part of the decedent. In that sense, to say that we can have a "murder market" is alot like saying that we can have a "theft market." A thief, however, is characterized by his subversion of the market. So too with murder, there is no pretense of negotiation or purchase.

Obviously, in a market regime that enforced voluntarily contract killings, "competency" safeguards would exist to shield those who sought to purchase their death arbitrarily - but that would make it no different from any other contract in an ordinary market.

But if the real question is whether or not people should be allowed to contract for their own death, the relevant "real-world" scenarios, it would seem, arise in two circumstances: (1) active euthanasia; and (2) organ donation. (Although, in the latter scenario, I would think that it would be limited to circumstances in which one family member sought to save the life of another.)

So to the extent that the question REALLY IS what societal purpose is being served by creating a market that would recognize the freedom to contract for your own death, one need look no further than the powerful moral and social justifications for allowing the freedom to choose to die in both circumstances.

David_Z said...

The "market" for murder (which is not a market) is a "market" for a patently immoral act, one which violates every tenet of individual self-ownership, and the right to one's own life. Insofar as such a "market" could ever exist - remember that a market transaction must involve, by definition, a willing buyer and a willing seller. No acquisition of your hypothetical "life deed" could take place unless the seller was a willing participant in the transaction. This follows from the principle of voluntary exchange, and it is also firmly rooted in legal tradition that "mere conveyance does not make a bad (i.e., unjustly/illegally acquired) title good (i.e., free of cloud or defect.)"

Confusing this hypothetical absurdity with even the weakest straw-man caricature of any true libertarian position is so patently absurd that it hardly warrants a response, whatsoever.

Jeremy said...

Hi, Mike! Just found your blog. You and I had an email conversation, oh, about 5 years ago on libertarianism. Glad to see that you're still interested in talking about these matters, as there is much in mainstream (or what some call "vulgar") libertarianism that needs to be qualified, reworked, or thrown out entirely.

The only comment I wanted to make about this particular post was this: not all libertarians appreciate Tyler Cowen's glib assertion of "markets in everything" as a silver bullet to any and every problem. Left libertarians like me see cooperative institutions such as mutual aid societies to be just as (if not more) important to the preservation of a free society than the buying and selling of everything as a commodity. Self ownership does not imply that there is ANY excuse for murder unless one has followed one's rigid principles to a pretty low place without the slightest reflection.

Markets are great for a lot of things, but they are not a catch-all. Libertarians who treat them as such are rather out of touch with authentic human nature. I suspect that certain economists who like to reduce all human characteristics and behavior to matters of mere economic calculation misrepresent the libertarian cause.

bi -- International Journal of Inactivism said...


Nothing in the physical universe precludes one from willingly selling his "life rights" to another, in order to procure various advantages.

Indeed, such a thing does have a sort of precedent. Duelling was a totally legitimate activity in the US until recent times. People willingly engaged in duels and challenged people to duels to uphold their "honour". And duelling involves precisely the surrender of one's "right to live", if only for a brief period of time.

Clearly therefore, John and doinkicarus's abstract pie-in-the-sky ruminations on the nature of man have nothing to do with actual fact.

-- Frank Bi