Repugnant Markets: Should Everything Be For Sale?

Sunday, March 28, 2021
First Aired: 
Sunday, June 3, 2018

What Is It

We might ban buying or selling horse meat in the US not for the protection of horses, but because we find it morally repugnant. Yet this moral repugnance is clearly not universal, and on some level may even be arbitrary, given France's attitude toward horse meat. What role, if any, should moral repugnance play in determining the rules of our marketplaces? Even if we want to eliminate the influence of moral repugnance, can we? Debra and Ken hold their noses with Nobel Prize-winning economist Al Roth, author of Who Gets What ― and Why: The New Economics of Matchmaking and Market Design.


Comments (11)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Thursday, May 31, 2018 -- 9:53 AM

The old (and still somewhat

The old (and still somewhat used) saw goes: there is no accounting for taste. If someone wants to create and sell it, someone else will probably want to buy and use it. Supply and demand. The oldest maxim in Economics.

Devon's picture


Monday, June 4, 2018 -- 12:38 PM

The right to pollute

I would have liked to hear some discussion about whether carbon credits or cap-and-trade programs are effective market mechanisms that ultimately benefit the public or are, as they are sometimes characterized, a repugnant means for buying the immoral right to pollute.

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Friday, March 12, 2021 -- 12:11 AM

In a utopian world, all

In a utopian world, all pollution is bad. Markets are a compromise and abstraction. In that context, and with absolute and decisive policing, I am OK with credits as long as the market is managed to maximize utility.

Rachel Carson was a radical. She was also very wrong about D.D.T. I don't want to follow that path. I want to do what is best for all and the world long term.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Wednesday, March 10, 2021 -- 7:49 AM

This remains an interesting

This remains an interesting question, steeped in a heady brew of ethics, economics, with dashes of logic and commonplace fairness thrown in. If we assay it rightly, it seems to me there is a preponderance of evidence supporting a 'no' answer. We can buy all manner of addictive and or intoxicating substances, either legal or illegal, harmful or not so much. We have freedom to choose what we will or will not take into our bodies to achieve desired effect: we do not keep our brothers or sisters. Many of those perish, tragically, choosing their fate enthusiastically.. So much for life and death in free society. Ethically, to me, this feels like bankruptcy. Of a most egregious sort. However, so long as we cling to cherished notions of freedom, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Friday, March 12, 2021 -- 12:02 AM

Surely not all things should

Surely not all things should be for sale.

Child pornography is the classic irrefutable use case but not the only one. I'm hesitant to include slavery as it is charged with recent history. Slavery is very much alive throughout the world, including in the nail salon down the street.

Repugnant markets are not the only markets that need to preserve human dignity either. All markets need to do this. Besides human dignity, other, sometimes overlapping considerations are; freedom, creativity, privacy, and human potential. To this list, I would add ecology and sustainability. Once a market designer meets these criteria, anyone would be hard-pressed to term a market as repugnant.

By this definition, many markets exist, maybe all that exist, have some repugnancy. How best to design and minimize this disgust is the question. I don't think we do this well now.

Disgust comes from the gustatory affect. When applied to morals, it takes on a very personal air, often common air. Indeed, we need to question disgust when others don't share that feeling. However, just because others don't find something repugnant, we need to be sure their tolerance is not due to ill health, immaturity, or mistreatment. If thus assured, then we need to question our values.

An excellent example of this is incest which is legal in France. Is this repugnant? Sure. There is no real market for it, I suppose, but I am disgusted by it. Pornography has a distinct cultural distaste and, if allowed, affect. It is tough to wear other shoes here.

Another example would have been slavery in the United States. Still, as I alluded to above, I am not sure we haven't just submerged that practice given our current racial lines, minimum wage, and lack of social safety nets.

I miss Ken. Having these shows repeat makes that and his legacy clear and appreciated.

Cross-posting with the blog...

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Thursday, March 25, 2021 -- 5:33 AM

The first sentence of Tim's

The first sentence of Tim's comments pretty well states the conundrum, seems to me. And it gets us back to basics in the often-foggy realm of ethics/morality. On a personal level, each of us knows what is good for us and what is harmful. But, for as long as we have choices, we will also have freedom to exercise them. Freedom is largely the vehicle through which we exert our will. So, we can do well, or mess up, miserably. This sounds like that notion which has been kicked about a lot in the last decade or so: free will. (Don't say it too loud, unless you are ready for a rumble.) I agree with Mr. Smith. Often, we need some something to save us from ourselves. Our willfulness can be our undoing. Yet, we strongly resent paternalism and are equally annoyed at ' I -told-you-sos'., being all grown up and all.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Saturday, March 27, 2021 -- 7:21 AM

Your illustration of tobacco

Your illustration of tobacco is the best case I can think of. Something that never should have been marketed and sold. Of course, it still is, in spite of all reasons why it should not be. I quit years ago. My choice. Keep plugging away, team.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, March 29, 2021 -- 6:29 AM

One more remark, in the form

One more remark, in the form of a question:
May we suppose repugnant markets are an outgrowth of postmodernism?

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Monday, March 29, 2021 -- 7:05 PM

No...repugnant slavery

No...repugnant slavery/tobacco predates that silliness.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Saturday, April 3, 2021 -- 6:08 AM


Yes, it follows...
So, thinking about science overeach; repugnant markets; ethics; morality and the like, is it too much of a leap to posit that things ethical and/or moral are now nothing more than what we say they are?
Because, if that is right, it must have always been the case: we make these thngs up, and alter them, to suit convenience and culture. The sequence becomes so fluid we barely notice.. unless we dare to 'jump out of the system'.

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Sunday, April 4, 2021 -- 10:07 AM

I see what you are saying.

I see what you are saying. Postmodernism is not anything goes in my understanding. Let me rethink that.