Richard Posner and Elisabeth Landes wrote this excellent paper in 1978, but I’m only now seeing it. It speaks of the terrible inefficiencies — pervasive shortages and surpluses — that come with state adoption agencies and their price controlled system of allocating the right to raise children. They address all the usual objections to a market for children and generally provide enough evidence to lower the temperature of the debate and introduce some rational thinking here.
In passing, they point out that a real market for child-rearing rights would probably end the practice of abortion or perhaps seriously curtail it.
When was the last time this point has been made an a debate on abortion? I’ve been thinking through it for years but never actually seen it discussed before. But it is really a no brainer. Why are valuable resources being tossed away when there are plenty of people out there who clearly want to use them? Why should abortion be considered the best-possible economic choice given that there is such a wide-spread demand for children? People speak about a woman’s right to choose but what about her right to give birth and personally benefit from marketing parental rights?
That all of this is illegal amounts to an intervention in the market process, and that intervention concerns the market for child-rearing rights. If we had an open market that allowed for payments to expecting mothers, the decision to abort would carry a heavy opportunity cost. Right now, all the cost is associated with carrying the baby to term. It cannot really be a mystery as to why so many choose to abort. This is what happens when the law mandates a price ceiling on any resource. No one wants to sell at a loss.
This is the kind of libertarian research that could make a huge difference in the world. This paper came out in 1978. I see it as compatible with Murray Rothbard’s views on child rights. Don Boudreaux wrote along the same lines. If anyone knows of other work in this area, I would love to see it. It seems that more work needs to be done in this area.
I once asked an anti-abortion activist whether he would favor a market for children if permitting one could reduce the number of abortions by half. He quick answer was no. I asked him to clarify: are you saying that it is better to be dead than traded? Yes was his answer.
That’s interesting to me because the current adoption market is already rooted in the cash nexus and trade. The problem is that it is seriously hampered by monopolization, regulations, and price controls. It is not the mother who makes the money but the agencies and lawyers. The law specifically forbids women from making a profit from a hugely valuable asset of their own biology. Women’s wombs have been forcibly de-monetized by the state.
Many people consider abortion to be a violation of human rights. Leaving aside that issue, it is surely a clear case of a violation of human rights for the law to prohibit women from the remunerative employment of their wombs in the service of life and human happiness. This is a serious case of state overreach.
Why are so few people willing to discuss this? It’s time we changed that.