Organ Shortage

There is a shortage of organs available for transplants in the United States. There’s some dispute about the number of people who die each year waiting for one, but it’s certainly many thousands.

Whenever there is a shortage in the United States, it’s a good bet that it’s caused by the government intervening (ostensibly to help us).

That’s definitely true in this case.

The National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 made it a crime “For any person to knowingly acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer any human organ for valuable consideration for use in human transplantation.”

Organs are valuable, and many people are squeamish about donating them. So, if the government forces the price to $0, a shortage is inevitable.

Most bioethicists agree that it’s better for more people to die waiting for organs than for some people to get them before it’s their turn. That wouldn’t be fair.

I hope that one day sanity will emerge and this stupid policy will be ended.

In the meantime, I urge all of you to consider joining Lifesharers: an organization that allows organ donors to grant and receive priority to/from other members. If we can’t give people a monetary incentive, perhaps we can offer them something else valuable to encourage them to become donors. The more people who join, the greater the incentive for others to join (and become donors, which is the real point).

Here’s a great Reason magazine article on the subject from a few years ago.

(HT Tim Lee)

Risky Psychology

There was a very nice article by Tim Harford in Slate last week.

In it, Harford discussed the fact that people often make economically unsound decisions because their fear of risk and loss is way out of proportion to the actual expected costs.

I don’t blame insurance companies for taking advantage of this demand people have to hedge their risks; even when it will almost certainly make them (the people) worse off monetarily

But, I do think people would be better off if they would think about the issue, decide to try to put things into proper perspective, and resolve to discover and pursue the course that makes the most sense.

Sometimes, it makes sense to spend money to soothe one’s fears.

But, if it’s possible to reduce one’s fears by thinking about the truth of the matter, then I think we should try.

Some risks are worth taking. Becoming more comfortable with taking them will pay off in many ways.

The Gauss Story

One of my favorite stories is that of the very young Carl Friedrich Gauss outwitting a mean teacher by solving a problem intended to inflict many minutes of drudgery (adding up the numbers from 1 to 100) by quickly discovering a shortcut to the answer.

I was reminded of the story by this interesting article that examines the story in a few ways.

I guess I don’t really care if it’s true. It’s still a great story.

One reason I like it is that it shows the victory of a young child over a cruel adult who was abusing his position of power. It shows that the common assumption of which of these people is smarter can be very wrong.

But, the main reason I like it is because it’s a great tale of cleverness.

And, I really like cleverness.

(By the way, the version I was told had Gauss performing the problem as an individual punishment, rather than being the first to complete a task assigned to the entire class. Somehow, I think that’s an even better story.)

Happy 200th Birthday, J. S. Mill

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of John Stuart Mill.

Cattalarchy has Mill-Fest of blog posts in celebration.

While it can be challenging at times (some really, really, long sentences, for example), I have to say that On Liberty is one of the few works that I’m happy to have been required to read in college.

I’m not often big on tradition, but a bicentennial anniversary strikes me as a good excuse to spend some time reviewing and celebrating Mill’s works.

Personal Courage

I’m a strong believer in pursuing one’s own rational self-interest.

But, I also think it’s good to cultivate and promote virtues that may not maximize one’s prospects in every individual circumstance, but (especially if widely adopted) will help to protect and promote those things we most value in the long run.

Thus, I agree with Eugene Volokh’s recent post about Courage, Shame, and Practice.

In it, Eugene responds to a commentator who questions whether he would behave differently from those (neighbors who sought the eviction of a terror target) he had criticized.

Eugene is no Bill Whittle, but I think he makes very strong points in his own clearheaded style.

We shouldn’t be foolhardy, but we also shouldn’t be cowardly. A culture of people who are often ready and willing to protect each other is stronger and safer than one where predators can be confident that their individual threats will meet little resistance.

I particularly liked Eugene’s final paragraph:

But dark days are here, and darker still are ahead. Each of us may one day indeed face a terrible test. If we don’t perform the small acts of bravery, how will we ever be able to perform the large ones? If we don’t try to make a habit of courage — if we don’t seize, in our mostly safe and comfortable lives, the opportunities to be brave — how can we make sure that our courage will be there when we really need it?

There was also an amusing exchange in the comments, in which a commentator began his criticism of that final paragraph with “Are you psychotic?”, and Eugene replied:

Tip 1: If you want a substantive discussion, don’t start by asking the other person whether he’s psychotic.

Tip 2: Assume the other person is not psychotic, and ask yourself whether there could be a sensible interpretation of what he’s saying.

Phony as a 495 Dollar Bill

Today I heard a radio advertisement that struck me as odd.

I don’t remember it precisely but I think the ad said something like “You know how you feel when you find a $5 bill? Well, imagine how you’d feel if you found a $5 bill, and right next to it a $495 bill? That’s what it’s like to switch to Geico for your auto insurance because new Geico customers report saving an average of $500 dollars…”

I was thinking, “Yeah it’s just like that. Superficially attractive, but clearly fraudulent!”

I suspect I’m not the only one.

Public Nudity and Sex

That should get me some more readers!

Things are heating up at the Volokh Conspiracy where the newest full-time Conspirator, Ilya Somin, has suggested that bans on public nudity and sex should be abolished (with a few exceptions) for moral and policy (rather than legal) reasons. Somin is not happy with laws that use the force of government to restrict the peaceful (although offensive to many) behavior of others merely because most people think the behavior is “Yucky.”

Eugene Volokh has also posted, coming to the defense of such bans for what seem to me to be rather flimsy attempts to justify the enforcement of conventional disapproval.

I’m with Ilya on this one. And, I think he makes a great addition to the Conspiracy. His posts have been excellent.

But, this issue is just another instance of the problem being the difficulty in satisfying people about what should be allowed “in public.” Many of these issues would largely go away if we would shrink public spaces and allow private people to control what’s allowed on their property. I suspect that most private places would support widely-held preferences and forbid behavior that offends many customers. And, there would be other places where such things would be tolerated, or even encouraged!

Everybody wins!

Except for miserable people who feel the need to control the behavior of others, even when it isn’t harming anyone. And I don’t really mind those people losing.