Why are so many people so hostile to free markets?
Markets provide miracles that we take for granted. Clean, well-lighted supermarkets sell 30,000 products. Starvation has largely vanished from countries where private property and economic freedom are permitted. Free markets have rescued more people from poverty than government ever has.
And yet, when innovators propose extending this benign power, people shriek in fear.
This was clear reading The Wall Street Journal not long ago.
The "Letters" section led with complaints about Bob Poole's column on well-maintained private highways that keep traffic moving. One writer complained that such highways exist for "the privileged who can afford surprisingly large fees to drive a very boring 45 minutes around metropolitan Toronto. Highway 407 is certainly a great success -- for its bondholders."
Surprisingly large fees? Only if you are clueless about what you pay for "free" roads. And why is success for the bondholders a bad thing? Is the writer envious? If the ride is boring, he doesn't need to take it. No one forces anyone to use a private highway. Why do so many begrudge the successes that voluntary private exchanges bring?
That same day's Journal also included a story on the "radical" idea of kidney selling.
Why is selling an organ "radical"? Banning the sale of kidneys kills thousands of people a year. That should be considered "radical."
Today, 74,000 Americans wait for kidney transplants while enduring painful, exhausting and expensive hours hooked up to dialysis machines. The machines are technological miracles that keep many alive, but dialysis is not nearly as good as a real kidney. Every day, about 17 Americans die while waiting for a transplant.
Yet plenty of Americans would give up a kidney if they could just be paid for their trouble and risk. Ruth Sparrow of St. Petersburg, Fla., ran a newspaper ad saying: "Kidney, runs good, $30,000 or best offer." She told "20/20" that she got a couple of serious calls, but then the newspaper refused to run her ad again, warning her that she might be arrested.
Why isn't someone with two healthy organs allowed to put one on the market? Because in 1984, U.S. Rep. Al Gore sponsored a law making the sale of organs punishable by five years in jail. Congress couldn't contain its enthusiasm; the bill passed 396 to 6.
So giving someone a kidney is a good deed, but selling the same kidney is a felony.