Abortion: A Market Solution?

There's no possibility of reconciling the opposites in this debate, for one side regards an unborn fetus as a person with full legal rights to life and to the protection of the law, even in some cases when it's only a zygote, while the other sees it as a clump of cells entitled to neither. The first perception normally springs from religious belief, and that in its nature is never subject to rational analysis or refutation; hence the futility of trying.

There may, however, be a possibility of satisfying both sides, using the operation of the market. In contrast to political "solutions," under which the losing side is always forced to submit to the winners, the free market normally leaves both sides equally satisfied; in fact, that pretty well defines what a market transaction is.

Here's how it might work in this context.

Consider a typical situation. A young lady and a young gentleman meet and sparks fly and they have an unplanned, unprotected but steamy and thoroughly enjoyable sexual encounter. Neither regrets it, but after cooling down a bit they both agree to leave it as a happy memory; neither is interested in marriage. But the girl gets pregnant.

The young gentleman, being a gentleman, offers to share the least-cost solution with her equally, and that of course is to have an abortion. Let's say it costs $10,000 plus some measure of trauma for the girl. They agree on a deal: he puts up $6,500 cash and she pays the rest.

The Third Party

Now enters a third party, an influential group that thinks abortion should be outlawed and that claims to represent the interests of the fetus. They say that this voluntary arrangement must not fly.

They argue that for it to proceed means overruling by deadly force the assumed wishes of the fetus, i.e., to go on existing. They assume, without proof, that the fetus has the capability of so wishing. But they assume it anyway and do intervene. The dispute exists.

How can it be resolved? As we saw, ANY political solution means applying force to the losing party. Either the couple will have imposed upon them the costs of bearing and raising a child, or the protesters will have imposed upon them an affront to their religious convictions. There is therefore NO political solution that satisfies all parties. Can the market do any better?

I think it can.

The protesters can come to the young lady and say, Mary, we think the fetus has an interest in this matter and wish to act in its behalf. We want you to give birth, and we're willing to compensate you for the extra trouble and cost.

Note: the possibility that she will refuse to accept ANY such offer will be so rare as can be disregarded. It's a basic principle of market economics that there is ALWAYS a price at which the market will clear. So if the protesters think that the life of a fetus is infinitely valuable--priceless--all that's needed is for them to bid high enough to achieve the desired result.

The price agreed will vary, just as market prices always do. Some girls in that situation will factor in the anticipated trauma of the abortion and the possible consequent regrets, and accept a low price plus the promise of immediate adoption. She will give birth and then walk away, with all costs paid--or at least, all those over and above the $10,000 already committed.

Others may bid the price up, to the limit. What might that maximum be? That depends on how passionately the protesters believe what they say they believe, but here's one way to predict it.

In the alternative (political) case, the protesters favor imprisoning the young lady for life, as someone guilty of murder. "Life," for a young lady, will be around 60 years, and @ $30,000 per year, that means a total of $2 million that they are willing to spend on incarcerating this person for aborting her fetus. So presumably, their maximum bid price to prevent it must be $2 million, less the $10,000 the couple is already willing to spend for themselves; $1,990,000.

So the market solution would appear to satisfy all parties--as it usually does. Has anything been overlooked?

Who Pays?

Yes, I can think of one factor we may have forgotten.

In the foregoing reasoning, we said the protesters are willing to pay $2 million to imprison the girl they call a murderess. But actually, that's not quite right; the protesters actually want taxpayers to foot that bill. What they are really trying to do is to make everyone else pay the two million, whether those payers share their opinions about abortion or not. Once again, the political "solution" would impose force.

This being so, clearly the protesters are shown up as hypocrites. They want a solution that imposes force on pretty well everyone with whom they disagree; they are would-be dictators. They are willing to commit massive theft, in order to punish what they claim, with non-existent rationale, to be "murder." These usually religious folk are willing to break one Commandment (Thou shalt not steal) in order to rectify--if it ever does--another (Thou shalt not kill.) As such, they lose all their asserted moral authority.

Does that mean, then, that there is no market solution? No, not at all. It only means that the prevailing, market price of preventing an abortion will be a lot lower than $2 million. It will settle down to whatever figure the protesters are willing to pay out of their own resources, to achieve their own objectives. Being much lower, that does mean that some potential aborters will not accept the offer.

But whatever it is, it will surely be sufficient to prevent a very large number of abortions. Not all, but a whole heap more than are prevented today, when such a market is not even allowed to operate.

Any Adverse Consequences?

Before leaving this quite pleasing solution, let's make sure it has no adverse consequences if the principle were applied elsewhere.

It might be argued that what it does is to set a price on human life. If (say) $25,000 will "buy off" a planned abortion, why should not someone contemplating the murder of a grown adult advertise his intention and invite bids of money to change his mind? Would such an idea not transfer wealth from the most caring members of society to the most ruthless, and isn't that an obviously regrettable outcome?

The first flaw in that argument is that the fetal existence purchased is a "human life." The protesters believe that, but nobody else does. Therefore, the extension is not valid.

There's another major flaw: the argument assumes that the intended victim of the proposed murder sits passively by. Clearly, he will do no such thing: seeing such an advertisement, he will ready his weapon and lie in wait. Assuming, of course, that other bigots have not used the political process to outlaw guns and the self-defense they provide.

So the intending killer's costs would not actually be trivial (the unstated assumption) but would likely be prohibitive. The situation, therefore, would not arise.

Accordingly, this does not impede the market solution to the abortion dispute. Let's take it!

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Jim Davies's picture
Columns on STR: 243

Jim Davies is a retired businessman in New Hampshire who led the development of an on-line school of liberty in 2006, and who wrote A Vision of Liberty" , "Transition to Liberty" and, in 2010, "Denial of Liberty" and "To FREEDOM from Fascism, America!" He started The Zero Government Blog in the same year.
In 2012 Jim launched http://TinyURL.com/QuitGov , to help lead government workers to an honest life.
In 2013 he wrote his fifth book, a concise and rational introduction to the Christian religion called "Which Church (if any)?"