Wolf Pangloss's Fish Taco Stand

"But, reverend father," said Candide, "there is horrible evil in this world."

"What signifies it," said the Dervish, "whether there be evil or good? When his highness sends a ship to Egypt, does he trouble his head whether the mice on board are at their ease or not?"

"What, then, must we do?" said Pangloss.

"Hold your tongue," answered the Dervish.

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Location: Edge City, Titan

03 December 2007

Baby Selling and Slavery

Over at Overcoming Bias, Robin Hanson responds to the WaPo:
A year after Guatemala's emergence as the second-largest foreign source of babies for adoption to the United States, a new push by the Guatemalan government to wrest control of the process from private agencies has stirred an emotional backlash from thousands of prospective adoptive parents in the United States. ...

Guatemala's solicitor general, Mario Gordillo, ... worries that thousands of desperately poor Guatemalan women are being induced to conceive children for adoption by private brokers offering as much as $3,000 a baby.

"Guatemala has converted into a baby-producing nation," Gordillo said at his office in Guatemala City. "Our children come into this world to be products for sale. . . . It's as if they were a car. What model is it? And who wants to buy it?" The debate raging in Guatemala echoes previous controversies that have led to the suspension of adoptions from Romania to Cambodia. ...

This is amazingly sad. It is in general a good thing if willing women are induced by money to have babies families want to adopt. Not only do the woman and the family benefit, but the baby gets a life! Positive externalities don't get much larger than this. We need lower, not higher, barriers to such exchange.

This is followed by a number of very learned arguments focusing on abstractions, and on bizarre arguments that posit that human life is a net neutral or net negative in the Universe. My response is:

I find it curious that I've come to the end of this thread about the buying and selling of babies and nobody has mentioned the elephant in the room: Slavery. Given that slavery is a great moral evil, is there a way to buy and sell children that prevents the evil of slavery? I don't see any evil in adoption. Nor do I see any evil in a woman giving up a child for adoption, or in getting paid for her time and effort. The tout, the lawyer, and the social worker (whose livelihoods depend on putting up barriers against adoption and collecting money from people for serving as middlemen) are in less morally clear positions. I do not believe that human life is a bad thing, but rather a good. And I certainly believe that free exchange of goods and services, leading to specialization, is a good thing.

If the baby grows up to be a free, educated adult (not enslaved) who can make a positive contribution to society and humanity, without being abused along the way, then it's all good.

But if the baby grows up to be an enslaved adult, or one who is unable to make a positive contribution to society or becomes a parasite or criminal, then it's bad.

So given those value judgements, how can adoption, even adoption with pay going to the mother, be structured to maximize the first probability and minimize the second? Are government adoption agencies able to achieve these goals or should adoptions be handled by churches or some other types of (for profit) organizations rather than governments?

Isn't that the important question, rather than the question of whether babies should be adopted out for money instead of adopted out for no money, or killed before they can be born?


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Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits.

                Matthew 7:15-16