Repugnance as a Constraint on Markets
This essay examines how repugnance sometimes constrains what transactions and markets we see. When my colleagues and I have helped design markets and allocation procedures, we have often found that distaste for certain kinds of transactions is a real constraint, every bit as real as the constraints imposed by technology or by the requirements of incentives and efficiency. I'll first consider a range of examples, from slavery and indentured servitude (which once were not as repugnant as they now are) to lending money for interest (which used to be widely repugnant and is now not), and from bans on eating horse meat in California to bans on dwarf tossing in France. An example of special interest will be the widespread laws against the buying and selling of organs for transplantation. The historical record suggests that while repugnance can change over time, change can be quite slow.
I have had long helpful conversations with Nava Ashraf, George Baker, Greg Barron, Eric Budish, Frank Delmonico, Drew Fudenberg, Ben Greiner, Rakesh Khurana, Steve Leider, Muriel Niederle, Eva Myersson Milgrom, Michael Rees, Susan Saidman, Dov Samet, Guhan Subramanian, Steve Woodle and seminar participants and coffee drinkers at the University of Chicago and Harvard. Some of this work has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation. The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Alvin E. Roth, 2007. "Repugnance as a Constraint on Markets," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(3), pages 37-58, Summer. citation courtesy of