The Market for Reproductive Rights

Yesterday I proposed a Population Planning Authority of India which would have the mandate for formulating policies for population control and for enforcing compliance. Today I would like to outline a policy very briefly and then over time spell it out in detail.

At its core, the population problem can be characterized as an instantiation of the classic tragedy of the commons. If there is one problem that is very well understood by economists, it is that of open-access resource which leads to the tragedy and consequently the solution to the problem is also very well thought-out and sane. It is basic commonsense, really. Afterall, economics is codified commonsense. (Aside: that is why physicists insist that giving a “Nobel” for economics is sort of silly.)

The entire corpus of economic insight in the human condition can be boiled down to the two simple statements that I made yesterday repeated below:

  1. Markets work, and
  2. Incentives matter

(Aside: this is something isomorphic to the two statements a computer science professor of mine had made about programming:

  1. A program is a state to state mapping, and
  2. A state is a name to value mapping

End of digression.)

So therefore we use markets to solve the population problem by getting the incentives right. The central idea is to assign what is called property rights to every human with regards to reproduction. Every person should have an equal and limited right to reproduction and no person should have the right to an unlimited access to the common property resource by exceeding his or her quota of reproductive rights.

That is the core idea and the rest is mere details which should not detain anyone who has other pressing things to do. For the rest who are in no particular hurry, I will take a couple of minutes to go into some broad details. The finer details I will leave for later.

Imagine, if you will, that each person eighteen years or older has a right to have half a child ab initio. So if you want to have an offspring, you have to find someone who also has the right to have half a child. If and when you do find another person, you can now get yourself one child. Once you have that child, you and your mate will be required to undergo sterilization — with one small exception. You will not have to undergo sterilization if and only if you get yourself a permit to have another half a child at least before you spent your given reproductive right. How do you get a permit to half a child? You buy it off someone else who is willing to sell you his or her reproductive right. Who is able to sell his or her reproductive right? Some who has not had a child yet and who has undergone sterilization. That person has a permit for half a child and that permit is available for someone to buy it in the market.

So the basic point is this: as long as you hold a permit for having at least half a child, you will not be sterilized. The moment you don’t have the permit, you get sterilized immediately. You start off with a permit of half a child the moment you are of age to have a child, say at age 18. You can continue to hold that permit until one of two things happen. One, you submit to sterilization and you sell that half-child permit on the market. Or, two, you find someone else with half a permit and together you have one offspring and both of you have spent your ab initio reproductive right permits.

The above scheme allows a person to have an unlimited amount of children — provided they can buy the permits required. The price of the permits will be determined by the market. If half the population is willing to sell their reproductive rights, the other half of the population can potentially have twice the number of children that they could otherwise have. If no one is willing to sell his or her permit, then every person can have only half a child on average. If there are more sellers than buyers, the price of a permit will be low. If there are more buyers than sellers, the price will be high.

Frequently asked question: what about the fact that the rich will have more children by buying more permits? Answer: Yes, that is right. The rich do get to have more children. The rich are also able to take care of the children. The rich also get to buy more cars, and food, and more of all sorts of goodies. This way at least they will pay for having children and if the poor cannot afford to have children, at least they will be compensated for not having children by those who can afford to have children.

Well, that is it. The scheme is as sound a scheme that you will ever come across in this world or beyond. This is an idea that is brilliant even if I say so myself. It is the second most brilliant idea I have had[**]. Seriously though, I think that some policy makers with brains (tall order, I know) should take this up and implement the Population Policy Regulatory Authority of India and implement this policy. Who was it who said, “Sir, I have found an argument. I am not obliged to find you an understanding.” (Note to self: google and find out the exact quote.) So also, I have stated the solution. I am not obliged to implement it.

More to come.

** In my list of brilliant ideas, RISC ranks 10th. Somewhat like the Star Wars movies, I will reveal the ideas in a random rather than in ordinal order.

For the humor impaired: only the last bits were said in jest. The rest is deadly serious stuff.