For those who need a transplant, the wait for an organ in America is growing longer: As Nobel economist Gary Becker lays out in a recent op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, 95,000 Americans were on the waiting list for new kidneys in 2012, but only 16,500 kidney transplants occurred that year. Today, there are over 78,000 candidates waiting for an organ transplant.
The exchange of kidneys represents what economists call a repugnant market: It could be made more efficient if people were allowed to pay for them, but there are ethical concerns about introducing money into the equation. As demand far outstrips supply—the average wait for a kidney has climbed to 4.5 years—there’s an increasing call for establishing a regulated organ market.
A new NBER paper explores whether information—such as the depressing numbers above—affects people's attitudes toward an organ market. The researchers were interested to look at how morals about markets play out, and to measure how people respond to new information about a charged issue.
First, they surveyed a control group on their attitudes about a regulated organ market—52 percent expressed a positive opinion. Next, a treatment group was required to read about the dire situation in the kidney transplant system in America. They were then asked to respond to various statements, including one about supporting a regulated organ market for live donors and families of deceased organ donors. Support for "regulated monetary payments for organ donors" for that group was 72 percent, significantly higher than the control group.