Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Things You're Not Allowed to Sell

Part of economic freedom is the ability to buy or sell whatever you like at prices or terms agreeable to both parties. You should be able to sell anything you own, or any service you wish to provide, so long as that service does not take away the rights of others. Most people would probably agree with that last sentence in principle, but not in practice. Here are some examples of things you are legally prohibited from selling, but shouldn't be:

  • Sex. Sex is a service. It is the oldest profession, and it is nobody's business but the people who choose to engage in it and their customers. If it's legal to have consensual sex with any adult you choose, it must be legal to pay for consensual sex with any adult you choose. Consent can be acquired through many avenues. Love is probably most desirable, but lust is another, and unfortunately bragging rights or pride or peer pressure exist also. So does money. Religious folks should feel free to preach about what the appropriate motivations for sex are, but they shouldn't be able to use the force of government to ensure people are only doing it for the "right" reasons.
  • Organs. One's body is one's primary possession, and it's arguably what gives us our right to property in the first place. But like all possessions, a body can be sold, and that should be the end of the discussion; if somebody wants to sell something that's theirs, it shouldn't matter what other people think of that decision, from a legal perspective. But even from a moral perspective, I can't see why people object to this. If somebody is trying to sell their own organ, they must be desperate! So desperate, in fact, that not selling the organ would be a greater danger to their health and well being than selling it would be. Truly, what people object to is not the sale, but the conditions which make the sale the wisest course of action. They defend the laws against the sale of organs with arguments like "Well, you'd have people sell their own bodies to shady, unqualified third world surgeons using ancient, unsanitary equipment just to put food on the table? How awful!" Clearly, nobody LIKES this practice, but outlawing it doesn't put food on their table, does it? It just makes that food more difficult to acquire and creates even more objectionable circumstances. And the laws are also the largest contributor to making that surgeon unqualified and that equipment out of date. Just like with drugs, in the absence of a legal market, a black market emerges. And just like with drugs, that black market is far more dangerous than the legal one would ever be because the people using it have to be even more desperate and willing to break the law. Truly, Americans and people in the "civilized" world have banned the sale of organs not because it's what's best for the would be organ sellers to prevent them from harming themselves (a bad enough reason as it is), but because the practice of organ selling reminds us that there are billions of desperately poor people in the world, and that makes us uncomfortable. Seeing the sale of organs in sub-par facilities in third world countries SHOULD be objectionable. But our objection should be to the fact that they need to do that, not that they are doing it. Our inclination should be to help those people so that they don't need to do it anymore, rather than preventing them from doing it and leaving them even worse off. Which is worse, a poor homeless woman who's forced to sell her kidney to survive, or a dead homeless woman who wasn't allowed to sell her kidney? Besides, this says absolutely NOTHING of the people those organs go to save! Like all sales on the free market, the sale of an organ is mutually beneficial! It also may save the life of the person receiving the organ! If a rich man on a waiting list in California needs a kidney this month to survive, and a poor mother in Ghana needs some money this month for her and her kids to survive, they can save multiple lives with absolutely no downside through a voluntary, safe legal exchange. Presently, that exchange is prohibited, and it's infuriating.
  • Sex organs. No, I'm just kidding, it was just a punny fusion of the above two things. Although technically...
  • Tickets you've already purchased en masse from somebody else. Some people refer to this as "ticket scalping", and say it like a dirty word. I find it to be a brilliant evaluation of when demand exceeds the price. Some people view the person who buys it from the ticket scalper as getting ripped off, because they were originally being offered for less money by the sports team, concert people, or whatever. But how can the person be ripped off if they're consenting to the purchase? Just like in the organs example, people should stop telling others they're a "victim" of actions they consensually agreed to!
  • Drugs. But that's a topic worthy of it's own post. I've been planning a post on the asinine War on Drugs for awhile now, and the sale of drugs is too similar to the consumption of drugs to not lump in with that topic.
  • The promise of silence. Promising to withhold information from the public - at a price - is a perfectly reasonable, mutually beneficial transaction. If you can hire someone as a spokesman to say things which best represent you or best frame your public image, why can't you hire someone to not say things which might tarnish that image? When worded like this, people probably don't object to it. But when it's worded in another way - blackmail - people almost universally decry it as a crime. But blackmail (as opposed to extortion, which is very different) is not a threat, but an offer. You are not threatening to do something illegal if you don't get money, you're threatening to do something legal that the other person simply wouldn't like. The most common example is speech, or selling your right to speech on a certain subject. But the principle needn't be limited to that activity either. Basically, if you are allowed to do it, you should be allowed to be paid not to do it.

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