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Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 21 No. 3 (Summer 2007)

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Repugnance as a Constraint on Markets

Article Citation

Roth, Alvin E. 2007. "Repugnance as a Constraint on Markets." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 21(3): 37-58.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.21.3.37

Abstract

This essay examines how repugnance sometimes constrains what transactions and markets we see. When my colleagues and I have helped design markets and allocation procedures, we have often found that distaste for certain kinds of transactions is a real constraint, every bit as real as the constraints imposed by technology or by the requirements of incentives and efficiency. I'll first consider a range of examples, from slavery and indentured servitude (which are much more repugnant now than they once were) to lending money for interest (which used to be widely repugnant but no longer is), and from bans on eating horse meat in California to bans on dwarf tossing in France. An example of special interest will be the widespread laws against the buying and selling of organs for transplantation. The historical record suggests that while repugnance can change over time, it can persist for a very long time, although changes in institutions that reflect repugnance can occur relatively quickly when the underlying repugnance changes.

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Roth, Alvin E.

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