Thursday 28 August 2014

Thoughts on a Book: The Red Market

The Red Market: On the Trail of the World's Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers

Morality: A Poor Way to Justify Rules?

I've spent alot of time lately wrestling with the poverty/coercion issue. By this I mean, does any exchange involving a person who really NEEDS the money coercive by definition. Two items have come into my head these past couple of weeks, Sullivan's "Someone's Daughter" thread on the dish, and the above mentioned book I read, that has pushed me solidify an opinion (mentioned breifly here through the lens of sex tourism which was easily witnessed on my Philippines travels this spring).

My bottom line is this: The point from which an evaluation of a policy or legal choice should be that humans have the right to do with themselves as they want to. Of course there are instances where this isn't so (minors, medically incapacitated, clinically insane, etc.) but the burden of proof should fall on those claiming to remove that choice from others, and the argument should be based on non-moral logic (with minors we have decided that the adolescence have yet to develop the capacity to fully evaluate the merits of a situation and thus can not grant consent... not quite so obvious to me and a topic of a future post I'm sure).

Assuming anything other then this strikes me as condescending. I mean this in a legal societal sense. Of course, being that I'm an almost absolutist on free speech. So condescend away.

She's Somebody's Daugther

I'll start with Sullivan's thread. Basically it's that argument, typically used with respect to pornography and/or sex workers, where it is implied that picturing your daughter in that life (and the assumption that this image is unappealing) should render it unacceptable for society. Or something a long those lines.

Now, the general problem I have with this line of reasoning is that there are many things that I wouldn't want my hypothetical offspring to do somewhere down the line. I wouldn't want them to not go to University. I wouldn't want them to ride a motorcycle. I wouldn't want them a daughter to bring home a hockey player. Sure I'd prefer these out comes to porn. But at what point does the degree of preference become relevant?

I'd probably prefer that my kid doesn't get into porn as much as an orthdox religious person doesn't want their kid to stray from the faith. Clearly that can't be the basis for a law. Just think about it: Who would you trust to make that judgement?

It's sort of in line with the: "it just disgusts me when two gay guys make out..." as if that in and of itself is an argument for actual legislation against it. I don't find it terribly appealing either, but neither do I find anyone making out in public terribly appealing, and some prude probably finds holding hands unappealing (to say nothing of interracial marriage, of which I am a product).

So that type of thought process I've been comfortable with for awhile. Legalize the consensual stuff and crackdown on the non-consensual stuff.

Poverty complicates things. And I don't mean poverty in the Canadian sense, I mean, real world poverty.

Is a Poor Person Incapable of Consent?

The consistent narrative in The Red Market: On the Trail of the World's Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers is: Rich people in biological need (for lack of a better term) exploit poor people via black, grey, and legitimate markets. Scott Carney coins these transactions as Red Market transactions.

The exploitation exists. Absolutely. But the implication is that these transactions, because of the wealth disparity, by definition exploitation.

Similar to the sex-tourism trade that I don't much like, but not only understand the merit of, but would support some good clear laws that would legitimize it, the same is true with Red Markets.

"Sweatshops" was the big breakthrough for me in getting passed me first world guilt. Once I got my head around the usefulness of them (defined loosely as a place where work is done at what developed country citizens would deem unliveable wages and/or unworkable conditions), and that the answer to bad sweatshops was better sweatshops. Then things started flowing.

Prostitution was the next big hurdle. I have to assume a mixture of chivalric (aka. sexist) and first world guilt interacting with each other. But I couldn't wrap my head around why it all shouldn't be illegal. At some point I accepted that legalization was the best step in Canada (and presumably similarly developed countries) where resources could focus on ensuring the really non consensual and coercive stuff would be minimized and the best environment for those practicing legally could be sought.

The rich/poor dynamic was the last to fall. And it finally did this spring.

Ok, so The Red Market. First, there was no big conclusion that I absolutely disagreed with. In fact, the author kind of comes around to the idea that full disclosure is our best bet (I agree), although the moral implication that the poverty dynamic is inherently coercive remains throughout (I disagree). Indeed, most of the problems pointed out are truly horrific and I would happily vote for a politician looking to address them seriously. But most of the problems, to my eye, would be best addressed by better versions of the same practices. Legal profit motive undercutting the black market being ideal.

A guy kidnapping and harvesting the blood of migrants to sell to a blood bank (as described in Chapter Seven about a situation in Gorakhpur an Indian city I once passed through on my way out of Nepal) is clearly horrific. But chalking this up to the profit motive and assuming the problem away with the removal of said motive is ludacris. To the author's credit, he doesn't explicitly make that assertion. But the implication does seem there (to my read).

Harvesting blood to meet the market's demand for blood isn't in and of itself a bad thing. But the author throughout cites the work of Sociologist Richard Titmus to imply that altrustic motives are far superior to commercial motives.

Consider the wording here as the author draws a parellel between american prison trials and Indians, using a quote from former executive editor of the American Journal of Bioethics Sean Philpott (pg. 188-189):
"Individuals who participate in Indian clinical trials usually won't be educated. Offering one hundread dollars may be undue enticement: They may not even realize they are being coerced"
So who is to decide when someone is being coerced? I fully support full disclosure, to even a rigours degree, but at some level we need to empathize with the fact that what is rational to one person is not necessarily rational to another. If we call this coercive based on their inability to provide consent due to extreme poverty and/or lack of formal education, then how far do we push this criteria?

"The meager payments granted to the people who sell their bodies merely puts the pressure of selling flesh on people lower down on the social totem pole."

And of course that's the crux of it. Looking down on someone for selling themselves in one fashion or another might not feel good. It might seem regressive to see the "body" selling up the income scale. But we all clearly value money differently, and this needs to be addressed. It's well and good to talk of morality and the like, but if the alternative to risking a pregnancy for hire is either starvation/illegal prostitution, what is right?

So I guess the real question is: Should anyone be telling poor people how important money is to them?

Make the Worst Case Scenario Less Bad.

Sometimes the least worst scenario is a good place to start. The author and I would agree that full disclosure is likely the lowest hanging fruit. You want to adopt a baby from an orphanage in India? Here's what it'll cost you, here's where the money goes, here's the orphanage, here's how the kid comes to be here, in fact, here are the parents (if possible), here's the money they get... deal or no deal?

It's unlikely we'll find a truly palatable solution until 3D printing or some other technology beyond my grasp makes some significant progress. But until then, let's make consensual what we can make consensual. Crackdown on the truly coercive stuff. And try to get really poor people less poor. 

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