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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Roy Rodgers Vs the Nursey lady from red cross

Big kev has declared 2009 is the year of the blood donor. He wishes to raise awareness of the need for blood and the importance of voluntary donors.

Fantastic you may say, bloody good you may think … what possible smart arse comment could Roy Rodgers possibly impart on such a worthwhile endeavour.

Lets unpack his wishes the need for blood. I’ve got to admit that this sounds reasonable to me. Given my lack of medical training I’m more than willing to believe that modern medicine and modern treatment practices do require blood.

Wish number two is to raise awareness of the importance of voluntary donors. This is the bit that gets me. Why are volunteers so important? And by volunteers they are referring to hapless altruists with enough spare time that they can spend an hour or so freely giving their own life juice to the state or in this case the state sponsored entity.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with donating time or money to causes you find attractive enough to sedate whatever degree of altruism you have imbedded in your own utility function. There is nothing wrong in giving food to the homeless. I myself always throw junkies a couple of bucks whenever I see them begging. I see it as my contribution to supporting the anti prohibition movement.

The bit I query is whether this is the right approach to take to blood. The thing is, blood is not a charity, people can afford it (or most people could) so the idea that giving blood is somehow charitable is a crook.

The other worry about blood is that if its so important and if its availability literally saves lives, why in the name of the almighty are we satisfied to limit our source of supply of the stuff to a small group of altruists. Not only satitisfied but have actually provided the Red Cross with a legislative monopoly/monopsony. The absurdity of the situation is only highlighted by the apparently never ending shortage of the stuff. According to that annoying bloodhound they keep abusing in their advertising we are living in a perpetual blood drought.

I find this state of affairs so annoying, that during the recent blood drive associated with the Victorian bushfires I decided to conduct a little experiment. I thought i would try and find out how much the Red Cross values a pint of blood and by extension how much they value the life that it saves. I donned my polar fleece vest, neil diamond tshirt and a sturdy pair of Rockwell shoes (my imagined blood donor uniform) and waddled down to the donor centre.

Nursey type : do you wish to donate blood.

Roy: yes I would love to …. whats the going rate per pint?

Nursey type: (face shows confusion and a slight look of concern) there is no going rate.

Roy: okay in the absence of an observable market price ill give you a pint for 20 bucks.

Nursey type: 20 dollars? … you misunderstand we don’t pay for blood

Roy: wow, haggle hard …. Look a lobster is as low as I’m prepared to go.

Nursey type: are you serious people are dying?

Roy: ok … that’s a 50 then (thinking, nursey heres a hint, in a bargaining situation never disclose you have near perfectly inelastic demand)

Nursey type: (with an angry tone) how can you be such a tight arse, profiting off dying people …. Please leave

Roy: me tight? … hey you’re the one that wont fork out a lousy pineapple to save a life ... tell you what, Ill give you a pint for $50 and if i dont pass out, ill give you another for $45 .... and i wont avail myself of your free mouldy sandwiches.

Nursey type: please leave

Roy: hey Im only trying to save lives ..... right then, I'm off to the hospital to see if i can scalp some fresh stuff!!

Why have we not established markets in blood? It’s a basic fact that markets and prices are much better, more efficient and more fair allocative mechanisms than any centrally controlled system would be.

There is nothing about blood that makes it inherently unmarketable. There is rivalneous in consumption, there is full excludability, there are no information problems and we have quite clear frameworks for property rights. If its my juice then its mine.

If we had markets we wouldn’t have shortages.

It makes you wonder just what the human cost of this seeming aversion to the comodification of blood actually is. To my mind one life lost is one life too many, especially if that loss could have been avoided for the sake of a lousy $50.


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