An excerpt from the Markets without Limits manuscript, a recently written, very drafty first draft of the section on designer babies. (The tables don’t render that well in HTML. Sorry about that.) This discussion occurs after a discussion about how inequality in access to technology and luxuries in developed countries leads to almost everyone having access to those technologies and luxuries.

SHORT SUMMARY: Even if designer baby technology led to massive inequalities of ability, that would be a good thing, not a bad thing!

According to the Wall Street Journal,

 

A personal-genomics company in California has been awarded a broad U.S. patent for a technique that could be used in a fertility clinic to create babies with selected traits, as the frontiers of genetic enhancement continue to advance.

 

The patented process from 23andMe, whose main business is collecting DNA from customers and analyzing it to provide information about health and ancestry, could be employed to match the genetic profile of a would-be parent to that of donor sperm or eggs. In theory, this could lead to the advent of “designer babies,” a controversial idea where genes would be selected to boost the chances of a child having certain physical attributes, such as a particular eye or hair color.

 

Some will regard this kind of technology as moral problematic. We welcome it, if it works.

One legitimate worry is that if people are allowed to design their own babies, this could result in dangerous sexual selection. In some countries, parents prefer male to female infants. If parents are allowed to choose their babies’ sex, this could lead to undesirable and dangerous imbalances in sex ratios when the children reach maturity. But this isn’t on face a reason to forbid the market in designer babies—it’s just a reason at most to regulate one aspect of that market.

We acknowledge that there is a legitimate worry is that developers will botch the technology, and thus hurt rather than help the babies they design. But this issue concerns acceptable risk and safety. In principle, the issue is no different from that any new drug or technology faces. It’s part of business ethics that one should not market technologies, such as cancer vaccines or personal jetpacks, without taking an appropriate response to possible risks, including the risk of harm to innocent bystanders. There’s an interesting question about just what the appropriate principles governing risk and product safety are, but we will not explore this issue any further here.

When anti-commodification theorists complain about designer babies, they aren’t primarily worried about whether genetic technology might lead to birth defects or health risks, but are concerned about whether designer babies might lead to invidious inequalities of ability. As the Wall Street Journal article reports, “Some people say it is unethical to bioengineer children because better-off parents could use it to give their children a competitive edge, widening societal divisions.” The argument goes something like this:

 

The Inequality Argument against Designer Babies:

  1. If markets in designer baby technology are allowed, these markets will be expensive.
  2. If so, then only the rich will be able to afford designer babies.
  3. The rich will use the technology to give their children greater health, intelligence, and other desirable traits, creating even further inequality.
  4. Causing further equality would be wrong.
  5. Therefore, allowing or participating in markets in designer babies is wrong.

This argument can be modified to argue that such markets should also be illegal.

Imagine a world like ours, but in which the overwhelming majority of people had extremely high intelligence, were extremely healthy, were much more attractive, had low risks of cancer or other diseases, lived long lives, had few behavioral problems, and were generally leading better lives. This is a world to aim for, not a world to avoid. The premise of the Inequality Argument against Designer Babies is that technology for designing happier, healthier, smarter people will eventually exist, but will be in the hands of the few. Our response to say that we should welcome it going into the hands of the few, so that it may one day be available to the many.

We want to remind the anti-commodification theorist of the normal trend in technological development. As we explained above, when a new technology develops, it is usually expensive, and available at first only to the rich. But, as the rich pay for the initial development of that technology and enjoy the initial benefits, the rich also pay to make the technology available to all. This has been true of, say, dishwashers, washing machines, air conditioning, electric stoves, microwaves, personal computers, landline telephones, cellular phones, smart phones, laptops, air flight, automobiles, furnaces, electric lighting, electricity in general, toilets, sanitation, daily baths, tasty and sufficient quantities of food, spices, salt, large houses, having lots of clothing, video games, and pretty much everything else. Perhaps designer baby technology would go against this trend, but it is doubtful. After all, consider that the cost of sequencing one human genome dropped from over $100,000,000 in 2001 to about $7,000 in 2013. The available evidence strongly indicates, if not guarantees, that designer baby technology will eventually be in the hands of almost everyone in developed countries. And, as developing countries develop, it will eventually be in their hands as well.

One might object that such technology will not be available literally to everyone. Perhaps the very poor will never be able to afford to ensure their children are genetically blessed. If so, then undesirable inequalities would persist. We have two responses to this objection.

First, it is unclear to us why this would call for closing the market, rather than subsidizing the poor. Consider: right now some people in the United States cannot afford to feed their children. No sensible person thinks this shows we should eliminate markets in food. Instead, at most, it means we should keep having markets in food, but use food stamps to subsidize the poor so that they can buy food. Similarly, if it turned out that designer baby technology forever remained too expensive for the bottom 5% of stable households (the kind of households where we would want children to be raised), then this doesn’t on its face call for eliminating the market in designer baby technology. Instead, it at most calls for giving such household tax-funded vouchers for designer babies, in the same way that we subsidize food or health care.

Second, we object to the view that inequalities in ability are inherently undesirable. Implicit in this objection, and in the Inequality Argument against Designer Babies in general, is the assumption that we live in a zero-sum world, where if some people are more talented than we are, this comes at our expense. But whether other people’s greater talents helps us or comes at our expense is a contingent matter, which depends on our background institutions. For people living in warlike hunter-gatherer tribes, it really is a disaster if the tribe across the river is stronger and smarter than you. But for people living in market societies, it’s not only not a disaster, but good to encounter people who are stronger and smarter than you.

Markets are not (generally) a zero-sum game. Markets allow unusually talented people to become unusually rich, but only if they use their talents to offer goods and services to others at prices they can afford to pay. Few of us are as talented as, say, Steve Jobs, James Watt, Edwin Land, George Westinghouse, or Norman Bourlaug, but at the same time, few of us would be better off in a world where they never existed.

Imagine a genie cast a spell making so that everyone was less talented than you. The genie doesn’t make you any better in absolute terms—it just makes everyone else worse relative to you. There are two versions of this thought experiment:

  1. Assume for the sake of argument there is such a thing as “natural talent”, where natural talent refers to our potential under favorable circumstances in light of our genetic endowments. Imagine the genie makes it so that everyone has less natural talent than you. But the genie will allow that some of these less naturally talented people have better skills than you in some things. That way, if you decide to specialize in plumbing and utterly neglect learning carpentry, the genie will allow that some people can become carpenters. However, had you decided to carpentry, you would have been better than any other carpenters, thanks to your greater natural talent.
  2. Imagine an even more extreme case in which the genie makes everyone else literally worse than you at everything you can currently do.

In both cases, the genie is an evil genie, not a good genie. The overwhelming majority of people would be much worse off in the situations described in 1 and 2 than they are in the real world.

David Schmidtz summarizes this issue well:

 

…society is not a zero-sum card game, but a cooperative venture in which the pie’s size is variable. Almost all people can have a better life than they could have had on their own, and the reason is simple: Other people’s talents make all of us better off. Talented bakers don’t just capture pie. They make it. The rest of us have more pie, not less, when talented people put their talent to work.

 

One reason why people struggle with basic economics is that we have a natural tendency to see the world in zero-sum terms. But we need to overcome this tendency. Market economies do involve competition, and sometimes, we would personally benefit from our competitors being less talented than we. But the market economy as a whole is not one big competition. It is not a race in which only one person can win. Instead, in a market economy, there is far more cooperation than there is competition. For a job at Georgetown, I might compete with 300 applicants, but I type my application on a computer in which literally tens of millions of people had a hand in making. Georgetown Cupcake might prefer that competitor Baked and Wired go out of business, but when you by a cupcake from either place, you eat something that literally tens of millions of people had a hand in making. In markets, we directly compete with the few, but we cooperate with the many.

A good way to think about this is to consider what might happen if the planet Earth began trading with the Vulcans from Star Trek. Suppose a few hundred years from now, Earth is vastly more productive and technologically advanced. Suppose we Earthlings discover how to build starships. Shortly after we test our first warp drive, the Vulcans make contact with us. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the all Vulcans are more talented than all Earthlings. The dumbest Vulcan is smarter than the smartest Earthling, the weakest adult Vulcan is stronger than the strongest Earthling, and so on. Suppose the Vulcans are also better at doing everything—growing corn, making computers, designing fashion—than Earth is. Everything we can do, they can do better, and they can do things we can’t do, too.

To those with little background in economics, it might seem like Vulcans would have no reason to bother trade with us. Or, to others with little background in economics, it might seem that trading with Vulcans would just put us all out of work, because everything we can do, they can do better.

But economists understand that’s a mistake. In fact, except in unusual circumstances, both the Vulcans and Earthlings would gain immensely from interplanetary trade. Each planet should specialize in its comparative advantage—that is, the form of production for which it has the lowest opportunity cost.

To illustrate, suppose Earth needs 8 million Earthling workers to produce 1 starship per year, or it needs 2 million workers to produce 1 trillion tons of food per year. Suppose the smarter, stronger, and more rational Vulcans are far better at making things than we are. They need only 1 million Vulcan workers to produce 1 starship per year, or 1 million workers to produce 1 trillions of food per year.

To see how trade will affect the standard of living on both planets, we need to start by seeing how well the planets do under autarky. Imagine that the planets don’t trade, and just decide to produce everything they need themselves. Suppose each planet decides this year to have 8 million of its workers manufacturing starships and 8 million grow food. Table 1 shows the most they can produce and consume without trade. (To simplify this illustration, we are ignoring all the other things Earthlings and Vulcans produce.)

 

Table 1. Production on Earth and Vulcan without Specialization or Trade

 

Planet Labor Allocation (Starships, Food) in millions

Starships

Food, trillions of tons

Earth (8, 8)

1

4

Vulcan (8, 8)

8

8

Total Production

9

12

 

Now suppose, in anticipation of trading, both planets decide to specialize in their comparative advantage. Earth’s lowest opportunity cost is in making food. It costs earth 4 trillion tons of food to make 1 starship, but costs Earth 1/4th of a starship to produce 1 trillion tons of food. It costs Vulcan 1 trillion tons of food to make 1 starship, and 1 starship to make 1 trillion tons of food. So Earth is the low-cost producer of food, while Vulcan is the low-cost producer of starships.

Imagine that Earth thus decides to stop making starships, and all 8 million former starship workers start producing food instead. The Vulcans decide to shift 2 million of their food workers toward producing starships. As table 2 illustrations, the total production of each good now increases. The two planets have collectively produced 1 more starship and 2 more tons of food.

 

Table 2. Production on Earth and Vulcan with Specialization in Anticipation of Trade

 

Planet Labor Allocation (Starships, Food) in millions

Starships

 

Food, trillions of tons

Earth (0, 16)

0

8

Vulcan (10, 6)

10

6

Total Production

10 (+1)

14 (+2)

 

 

But this doesn’t yet mean that the Vulcans or Earthlings are better off—they still need to trade. So, now imagine the Vulcans decide to trade 1 starship for 3 trillion tons of food. Table 3 shows that trade will make both planets better off than they had been under autarky, when there was no specialization or trade. Earth ends up getting the same number of starships, but 1 more trillions food, while Vulcan ends up getting 1 more starship and 1 more trillion tons of food. (The number in parentheses shows the gains from trade compared to autarky.)

 

Table 3. Consumption on Earth and Vulcan after Trade (Vulcan trades 1 starship for 3 trillion tons of food)

 

Planet

Starships

Food, trillions of tons

Earth

1

5 (+1)

Vulcan

9 (+1)

9 (+1)

Total Consumption

10

14

 

Think about what this means from Earth’s perspective. The Vulcans are twice as efficient at producing food and eight times as efficient at producing starships. Yet, if the Earth decides to specialize in producing food and stop making starships altogether, it continues to get one starship per year, but gets even more food. It’s almost as if by growing more food and deciding not to build any starships at all, Earth gets a free starship. Or, another way of putting it, is that interplanetary trade makes it is that Earth can grow rather than build the starships it needs.

            Now let’s examine how interplanetary trade will affect Earthling and Vulcan wages. Assume that a starship sells on the interplanetary market for $3 trillion dollars, while a trillion tons of food sells on the interplanetary market for $1 trillion. (This is consistent with the Vulcans trading one starship for 3 trillion tons of food.) We can then calculate what the average yearly salary of the workers will be. If both planets have competitive markets, then the average wage in each planet is given by the following formula:

 

Average Wage = Value of Total Consumption/Number of Units of Labor

 

In light of that, table 4 calculates average yearly wages for each planet before and after trade. 

Table 4. Average Yearly Wages for Workers

 Before Specialization and Trade: 
 Average Yearly Wages on Earth 

 

(1 starship x $3 trillion) + (4 trillion tons food x $1 trillion)

16 million workers per year

=    $437,500

 Average Yearly Wages on Vulcan 

 

(8 starships x $3 trillion) + (8 trillion tons food x $1 trillion)

16 million workers per year

 = $2,000,000

 After Specialization and Trade: 
 Average Yearly Wages on Earth 

 

(1 starship x $3 trillion) + (5 trillion tons food x $1 trillion)

16 million workers per year

=   $500,000

(12.5% increase)

 Average Yearly Wages on Vulcan

 

(9 starships x $3 trillion) + (9 trillion tons food x $1 trillion)

16 million workers per year

 = $2,812,500

(8.4% increase)

In summary, trading with the smarter, stronger, genetically superior Vulcans is a windfall for the relatively dumber, weaker, inferior Earthlings. Vulcans benefit from trading with dumb, weak, and irrational Earthlings, but Earthlings benefit even more from trading with smart, strong, and rational Vulcans.

Now let’s apply this to the argument about designer babies. We can simply repeat the exercise above, except imagine that the trade occurs not between genetically superior Vulcans and inferior Earthlings, but genetically superior designer humans and the on average inferior humans produced by a genetic lottery. We would get the same results. In normal, well-functioning markets, designer babies’ talents are not a curse, but a boon to others. If we can’t find the Vulcans, we can design them instead.

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  • Jameson Graber

    I agree with this post’s assessment of the argument it chooses to address, i.e. the argument concerning inequality. For me, the real worry here concerns bioethics: are we racing further down a path where some human life might be expendable for the sake of scientific trial and error? Perhaps unlike most libertarians, I’m not such a fan of destroying embryos to achieve genetic perfection.

    Of course, if destroying embryos isn’t a part of the process, that’s great.

  • ben

    “Causing further equality would be wrong.”

    ^typo

  • Valdenor Júnior

    Jason Brennan, I like your argument in this post, but what do you think about book “Average Is Over”, by Tyler Cowen? Example: ” 2. The new birth of innovation will produce more very wealthy and more poor people, “including people,” Cowen predicts, “who do not always have access to basic public services.” “–> http://www.libertylawsite.org/2013/10/09/tyler-cowens-vision-of-a-more-perfect-meritocracy/

    • J D

      Yes, if history’s pessimistic automation scenario finally arrives, the matter of distribution must become a live issue even for hard libertarians. If it is indeed the case that capital will outstrip wage and employment growth to an extent that creates a genuine problem, perhaps a Sovereign Wealth Fund could capture some of these massive gains and fund a Basic Income, a universal Workfare program, or similar. If the middle of the income spectrum is greatly reduced in size, we may have to let go of mutual aid networks as a dreamed-of alternative to state provision. : (

      As an aside, I’m happy to see that Jason is writing a book called “Why Not Capitalism?”. It reminded me of Alan Meltzer’s similarly titled book, and that I wish it contained Jeffrey Friedman’s excellent, minimalist explication of markets.

      From Friedman’s book on the financial crisis:

      “The systemic advantage of capitalism is that it allows heterogeneous interpretations of what is going on to be “enacted” simultaneously by competing businesses. The disadvantage of modern democracy is that in attempting to solve social and economic problems, either the people or their agents—legislators or regulators—must adopt a single interpretation that, in legal form, homogenizes behavior throughout the entire system. If this single interpretation is erroneous, the entire system may be jeopardized.”

      • Les Kyle Nearhood

        A basic guaranteed income would be the answer to that. And greater productivity would help fund it. As for mutual aid societies. I think they would actually be more helpful in such a scenario.

        • MingoV

          Since when do libertarians support guaranteed incomes? The more productive would be taxed to support the unproductive. That is communism.

          • Les Kyle Nearhood

            Technically it is a form of socialism and it has been supported by a variety of libertarians for a long time now. (See both Milton Freidman and Frederick Hayek.) My own view is this: It is impossible to not have some form of socialism in a modern state because the people will demand it.
            .
            .If there is no basic social safety net, then the first instance of some old war veteran dying in the cold or some starving kids will have the media and the opposition parties screaming bloody murder and before long you will have a full blown welfare state on your hands. Better to craft something which is small, inobtrusive, and manageable as sort of an inoculation so that you don’t get the whole disease.

          • Chmee

            You’ll also get a general uprising that would have to be quelled, at a great loss of life. Think of what happened during the French revolution.

          • J D

            It is possible that technological unemployment will become a genuine problem, thereby requiring some level of redistribution on humanitarian grounds. There is a large amount of recent work on automation and labor-market polarization; please explain why you reject it. Note that Tyler Cowen, a market-oriented economist, also predicts this kind of labor-market-polarization; it isn’t only the Marxists you’re arguing against.

            A Universal Basic Income is not communism. Communism is totalitarian.

            Also, if you are able to grow a large enough Sovereign Wealth Fund, its gains could theoretically pay for such a UBI, allowing the lowering of income taxes over time. If capital gains are going to explode, the SWF should, too.

  • Jeremy McLellan

    You could flip it around and ask if it would be acceptable for the state to give rich babies impairments or diseases in order to reduce inequality. If the answer is no, I see very little difference between this and banning rich people from preventing the diseases.

  • Les Kyle Nearhood

    I don’t give a fig about any inequality argument. Maybe some hopeless parent is trying to even things up by giving their offspring some advantage they never had. But to me the real problem is that you KNOW with certainty that some jackass somewhere will want to mix some sort of animal trait into their baby, like gills or claws. I think it a violation of that unborn person’s rights to be at least human.

  • Robert M.

    Well, from the point of view of economics everything in this post is alright. But the point is, most people who argue against such developments say that it is not a matter of economics (e.g. that utilitarian considerations such as the above don’t give any reason to manipulate the genome because well-being has to succumb to the primacy of some higher-order laws or something else) – in other words, this is an inherenty ethical issue). This is the heart of the issue and the post does not address it.

    • Jason Brennan

      Hi Robert,

      That’s true, but this section appears in the book after we’ve already defeated these other kinds of arguments.

  • Sean II

    “In summary, trading with the smarter, stronger, genetically superior Vulcans is a windfall for the relatively dumber, weaker, inferior Earthlings.”

    The problem arises when you try to reconcile this with a culture that cannot accept – much less openly discuss – the possibility of meaningful group differences in important traits.

    This is the same place where Caplan goes wrong on immigration. Comparative advantage arguments invite us to acknowledge group differences. Okay, great, but the rest of our culture insists we deny them. To discuss the gains from comparative advantage without discussing the easily foreseeable political tension that comes with it is irresponsible.

    Once you switch from Earthlings and Vulcans to Mexicans and Asians, this gets to be a serious problem…and it drives me crazy when smart people pretend not to know that.

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      I don’t know which is worse, the multi culturists who insist that every culture is as good as any other (something which they most demonstrably do not believe) Or those who deny that culture makes any difference whatsoever in a groups abilities, knowledge, cooperativeness, or to social cohesion.

    • Cahokia

      Designer babies open the door to ending those group differences.

      The fact that you miss one of the most obvious consequences of this technology suggests that you *need* group differences to persist indefinitely in order to maintain your feeling of innate superiority.

      • Sean II

        No dipshit…designer babies do NOT open the door to ending group differences as long as society continues to act as though those group differences don’t exist. One would first have to admit there is a dysgenic problem among groups, in order to get on with the business of solving it. If you need to have it explained why that is not about to happen anytime soon, just ask Dr. Watson

        Besides, if practical eugenics became available tomorrow, exactly who do you think would show up at the gene clinic for a family planning consult?

        It’s not going to be black teenagers, I assure you. We have every reason to believe the advent of designer babies would widen the gaps I’m talking about, especially at first, and possibly in a big way.

        And by the way, my sense of superiority comes from dealing with fools, so it’s not going anywhere. Thanks for doing your part.

  • http://frankhecker.com/ Frank Hecker

    Hey, another post about genetics; I can’t resist commenting on these. Leaving aside the inequality and comparative advantage arguments, there are some points worth noting for those less familiar with this topic (apologies in advance for the length of this):

    First, “designer babies” is an overly broad term, as there are multiple techniques at issue here, some of which have been in use for some time now. The first is genetic testing and counseling of couples who are at high risk for serious inherited diseases, e.g., Tay-Sachs disease among Ashkenazi Jews or French Canadians–basically advising certain people not to marry or to have children if they both have the disease-associated genetic mutation.

    There’s also pre-implementation genetic diagnosis for couples doing in-vitro fertilization: basically producing multiple embryos, doing testing on them, and only implanting those that appear to be free of genetic abnormalities. PGD in association with IVF is pretty common in US fertility clinics today. It’s getting more sophisticated, as the types of tests you can do increase (e.g., doing partial or even whole-genome sequencing), but it’s still oriented primarily around disease prevention.

    The 23andMe patent (the spark behind the most recent “designer baby” controversy) is somewhat different: It extends the scope to analysis of non-disease-related traits (including relatively trivial ones like eye color), and in the context of fertility treatment is more focused on selection of sperm or egg donors (for couples using them) as opposed to analysis of embryos–as I understand it, the basic idea is to do genetic analysis of multiple sperm and/or egg donors, then determine which ones would be most likely to produce particular traits.

    A more radical idea floating around is the one that (after a fair amount of distortion) was in the news recently as the “Chinese genius babies” story: That if we knew the genetic architecture of intelligence (a project that the Chinese firm BGI is working on) then we could potentially use that in conjunction with next-generation PGD and IVF to select embryos that had the highest likelihood of yielding more intelligent children. (Google “BGI cognitive genomics project” for the story behind the story.)

    Now, as to cost, subsidization, etc: Any technique involving IVF is going to be expensive, at least initially. Per the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the average cost of an IVF cycle in the US is $12,400, with multiple cycles often required. It’s not clear from the source whether this includes any costs for egg donors (for couples using them); in the DC area you’ll often hear radio advertisements from fertility clinics offering $8,000 or so to qualified egg donors.

    There are in fact people who think they can reduce the cost of the IVF portion to as low as a few hundred dollars, mainly by replacing high-tech procedures with low-tech procedures that are equally (or almost equally) as effective. See for example the recent BioNews article “Low-tech, accessible IVF could cost just €200“. Trends like this in combination with lowered costs of genetic sequencing support the post’s claim that “designer baby technology will eventually be in the hands of almost everyone in developed countries” and in developing countries as well. Even if this remained restricted to disease prevention I think it would be an attractive investment both for couples and for their countries, given the high lifetime costs associated with many genetically-influenced diseases.

    However, putting my cynic’s hat on I think it’s quite possible that the non-rich in the US will be the last people in the world to benefit from this. First, the trend to lower costs may be thwarted in the US for the same reasons that US health care costs in general remain significantly higher. Second, there’s a significant and relatively influential fraction of the US polity that vociferously objects even to subsidizing poor families’ food purchases; I can’t wait to hear what they’d think of subsidizing PGD and IVF for the “47%”. If there’s subsidization at all, it may instead be in the form of tax breaks like the mortgage interest deduction–basically subsidizing the cost of PGD and IVF for upper-income couples in high tax brackets and having other taxpayers pick up the slack.

    If there’s going to be subsidization for procedures involving IVF, PGD, etc., that might lead to promotion of favorable traits in offspring in poorer families, I suspect it will more likely be in developed countries like the UK with national health systems, or in developing countries like China that have authoritarian governments with an interest in raising the productivity of the populace to help counter unfavorable demographic trends, and where people are less concerned with the ethical issues around “designer babies”.

    • DJXOB

      Are you an author or something?

  • Bryan Mills

    There is a significant difference in the examples that you’re glossing over. In the case of trade with Vulcans, the Vulcans don’t use their proceeds to purchase exclusive access to Earth’s natural resources.

    In the case of inequality here on Earth, that’s all too common – and the closing off of productive resources is what leads to spiraling inequality and oppression.

    • Jason Brennan

      So, would you prefer instead that we design babies to all have exactly the same “natural talents”, as a way of fighting oppression?

      • Bryan Mills

        No. Specifically, I’m not saying that “designer babies” will introduce any problems that we don’t already have and shouldn’t already address. However, they may exacerbate those existing problems.

        Allowing designer babies and similar inequality-reinforcing technologies makes it more urgent that we address structural inequality by other means – e.g. though a basic income.

  • Theresa Klein

    Seems pretty obvious to me from a moral standpoint that it would be immoral NOT to allow rich people to select in favor of health and intelligence. To do otherwise would be to (effectively) impose poor health and lower intelligence upon unconsenting children.

    If those children would otherwise have been smarter and healthier, you are condemning them to suffer lower intelligence and poorer health by interfering.

    How would this be any different, really than denying rich people the right to feed their children healthy food, because differential access to good baby food causes health and intelligence differences between rich kids and poor kids?

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  • Kaf

    There is nothing I can’t understand when explained with Vulcans

  • ole

    You write that the argument against this kind of interfering with the genes is bad because it will create inequality, but what is really wrong with it as long noone have it worse than they did before? A more reasonable argument would be that we don’t know how a human beeing gets its existence from the matter that is its body, and we have no idea what we really are doing to the person. Would it have free will, like men, would it not? It would be extremly unetichal to the child to be doing such a thing. Let the nature do what it does, because we do nearly not know anything about the world we live in.

  • Aurifex II

    Many of the primary arguments here are flawed on so many levels that I almost can’t believe I’m taking time out of my busy day to comment. For one thing, the author becomes so fixated on making his point that he entirely ignores the question of whether what he’s suggesting makes any practical sense. Subsidize the poor? This is human reproduction we’re talking about! Is he imagining a world where no-one makes babies through intercourse? Where all people, rich and poor, remain sterile until they’re ready to take their government vouchers to their local embryo-selection-and-implantation clinic for a little gamete manipulation? Laughable. And by the way, what kind of upper-middle-class bubble does the author live in? Take a look at the list of goods that he claims the rich have effectively made available to all. To all? Ask the 15% of Americans who live in poverty how happy they are with their access to AC, smart phones and dishwashers. Oh, and let’s quickly touch on the fact that in any case we’re not building towards an “end state” of human perfection here. Designer baby technology will continue to become increasingly advanced as the underlying science evolves; the best will always be expensive, it will always deliver “better” results than cheaper alternatives, and it will always be out of the reach of the majority. In short, it’ll act as a permanent and powerful engine of inequality. Let’s please think things through more carefully before proposing potentially explosive policies.

  • H G Wells

    Probably almost any amount of money you might spend on messing with baby’s genes would have a better return if spent educating baby. eg, obese americans are obese not because they have bad genes, but because they eat poorly.

    Decent sanitation and nutrition can produce a generation of supermen without any recourse to Positive Eugenics, to paraphrase Mr. Wells in “The Shape of Things to Come”

  • Anthony

    I support designer babies. More stronger, smarter and healthier people will benefit the world. I find weaknesses in your arguments to support this though.

    For a start, all of earths engineers would need to retrain as farmers. All of the Vulcan farmers would need to train as engineers. This is not just something you can just get up and do. Engineering and farming are both skilled jobs and require significant amounts of training. This would create mass unemployment due to something called structural unemployment. This is a long term issue and will be hard to address. Engineers do not exactly have work experience in farming and vice verse. (you could say the engineers would be overqualified for farming and the farmers under-qualified for engineering). Humanly dealing with this problem would be hard. Government coffers would be drained in social welfare and crime would also increase due to the resulting unemployment. Vulcan and earth would have this problem. This is a hidden cost excluded from every free trade agreement in the world and is not talked about in contemporary economies.

    Secondly, this could also create a skill shortage on both earth and Vulcan due to the increased demand for labor, further reducing the benefits of trade. This would result in literal dead-weight loss on the economies of earth and Vulcan. .There is an exchange cost from one unit of production to another, look at the Production Possibility Frontier. That is why despite their being a large skill shortage, there is still high unemployment around the world.

    In reality, societies are bound by more that just economics and libertarians generally ignore this.

  • Josh M.

    Even though I hold a neutral stance on the designer baby issue, I could not agree with the reasoning of this article.

    “First, it is unclear to us why this would call for closing the market, rather than subsidizing the poor. Consider: right now some people in the United States cannot afford to feed their children. No sensible person thinks this shows we should eliminate markets in food.”

    If a designer baby market did exist, it would most definitely not be shut down due to the existence of an inequality, it would instead remain a item of luxury that a few can afford. It is not a fair assessment to compare something like consumer-minded bio-engineering with an absolute necessity such as food. This argument alone is like arguing that cosmetic surgery should be subsidized for the poor. I do agree that the costs of designer babies would go down, but may not be as accessible as the author believes it will be. It would be comparable to the costs of cosmetic surgery and lasik eye procedures which have both seen large reductions in cost, but still out of reach of many consumers.

    My point is that comparing a potential luxury item to that of a necessity does not provide an accurate basis for the argument being made here. Luxury markets are inherently markets of inequality that are not fully accessible by general consumers, and to make the notion that the worst case scenario would call for tax funded vouchers is almost outrageous.

  • Jamieson Currie

    “For our blue and pure world!” ~ Blue Cosmos

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  • http://socioproctology.blogspot.co.uk/ windwheel

    Vulcan is better off by wiping out the population of Earth and colonizing it with suitably modified hybrids. Similarly, the designer baby technology might lead to a speciation event such that the new ‘supermen’ exterminate the descendants of stupid slobs like me so as to make more efficient use of the earth’s resources,
    You should have stuck to the trickle down argument which is perfectly plausible. Comparative advantage is irrelevant when Land is scarce. The guys with Absolute Advantage wipe out the others unless there are non-convexities or some arcane reason for ‘reswitching’ type multiple equilibria.

  • mixi

    I understand the different arguments in the article, but strongly disagree on one point. This is where the author states that eventually the expensive technology to create these babies will eventually “trickle down” to the avg and poor.

    My thoughts are this: that this technology (plus the doctors and equipment necessary to pull it off) will NEVER (unless stolen or hijicked) be ‘given’ to the non-rich. If this was the case, the rich would have by now invited the masses to play on their yachts, hang out in their mansions, drive their fancy cars, and partake in all the wonderful, extravagant lifestyles they exist in.

    However, it’s much more likely, as it is now, that the ones in power (ie. the rich), will keep this little advantage to themselves at all costs. It will guarantee their win over the “weak” in civilization…which they have been hard at work on for many, many years.

    I’m not saying that eventually the masses won’t rebel or just “take it” and share it with as many as possible. What I am saying is that, just like now, the ones in power rarely do anything for the overall good of mankind. It will be up to the masses, just like it is now, to fight for equality and fairness.

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