Thursday, January 22, 2009

A kidney for your troubles?

Alvin Roth gave the Kahneman lecture this year at the international association for research in economics and psychology conference. In it he referred to many 'repugnant preferences', thing that disgust us now and constrain markets in various ways. He gives the example of fur markets, and products that are ok to buy in one country but not in another, like dog or horse meat. Entertainment events like 'dwarf throwing' which are seemingly fine now whereas if you substitute other minorities this is condemned. Taboos can form and disappear over time and are largely arbitrary according to Roth. John Haidt supports the idea linking moral judgements to feelings of disgust in his experiments where he induces disgust via hypnosis and this alters how we feel about many decisions. Evolutionary psychologists argue that in cases this is a programmed heuristical response for avoiding decaying carcases, feces, intra-family mating and so forth. The response can potentially be hijacked by learnt associations we accumulate throughout life. Most interestingly, however, Roth points to the boundaries linked to disgust in relation to the human body and how transactions can transform from feeling morally ok if made out of concern for another to feeling less moral, even disgusting, if done for money. Giving someone a kidney is a pretty amazing thing to do but pawning one to the highest bidder.. we're not so sure. This brings me to the legal price of a kidney in Singapore, a maximum of $33,000 dollars seemingly according to the asia sentinel news blog. It's one way to remove your financial worries in these uncertain times. I have a fair idea what it'd be like to get $33,000 dollars now but it's harder to imagine the lifelong effects of this transaction so maybe it's ok that my disgust reaction does the work for me instead of weighing up costs and benefits of this decision!

2 comments:

Martin Ryan said...

Interesting post Michael. That was a good talk at IAREP alright.

As well as considering giving one's kidney away for cash, what if a friend needed your kidney to survive? If you were designated as someone whose kidney was a good match to your friends --- what would you do?

Here's what Larry David thought about it when his friend Richard Lewis needed a kidney:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0hqm_WKdVw

The episode is quite good. Number 5 in season 5.

Kevin Denny said...

I thought the talk was..interesting in an anecdotal way i.e. not very analytical. At one point, Homer Simpson while desperate for money decided to "sell a liver, I can live on the other one".