This week, while listening to my favorite podcast Hidden Brain (*), I was introduced to Repugnant Transaction, a term coined by Alvin E. Roth, a Nobel prize recipient in the field of Economic Sciences and a professor of business and economics at Harvard University. Alvin was being interview by Shankar and they got my absolute attention.
In the program Alvin indicated that Repugnant Transactions (Market) is the area of commerce that is considered to be outside of the range of conventional market transactions. These transactions bring the market into the realm of a market would be inherently immoral or uncaring.
To simplify, these transactions that look immoral and are immoral for some yet they are not illegal. In these types of transactions money is the corruptive element that pushes one or many to consider the offer and take it.
Here is a case: in Spain, a man tattooed the name of a stranger onto his forehead. The stranger had a lot of money and the other one was a tramp, the tramp agreed for money. This is not illegal, but definitely questions the morality of the one who paid.
These transactions are licit, however they question our integrity, and who are we really as society and individuals.
Another case: For how much would you sell one of your legs, one million dollars, 10 million dollars, or 100 million dollars? May be you will say that there is no money in the world for which you will do it, bur consider the following, who in your would consider it and for how much?
To start the conversation, I will give you other examples:
Human Organs: why it is not the same to buy a human organ than to donate it? We believe that those who donate organs are generous, compassionate, and kind, however if someone decides to sell his organs he is none of these. To sell your organs in Iran is legal and yet who does it, it is not consider a great individual.
Surrogacy is well restricted in Europe, however in India is totally legal. So even if it is so in India, it doesn´t make it out of question.
It is not illegal to buy cheap stuff; further more, we wait for the super offers to buy them even cheaper. Now, many of these products come from manufactures where they exploit minors and that is part of paying low prices. And if we know, why do we keep buying it cheaper and cheaper?
May be you might think these examples are from other places and too much for you, let me give you others:
Ticket touting which in many cases are sold double the official price, have you done it? Legal!
Education: is it ok for school owners to profit from the education of our children? Sometimes this happens at the expense of underpaying staff and teachers. Legal!
Predatory Lending: have you gotten any of these? Sometimes, the dream of having our own house or apartment leaves us at the mercy unbearable payments. Legal!
I believe all of these topics would make interesting conversations. I invite you to find what have been the situations in your life in which you have questioned how far money can take you.
This is not something that we don´t talk about it very often, the tendency is to avoid it, to silence our opinions, to hide our actions, to judge others, to judge us, etc.
What would be a way to tackle these conversations?
I really don’t know, all I know is that it happens everyday in our lives and we act as if everything is normal. May be is because it is normal, I am not sure.
I also think of all the variables that would be involved in the conversation: income, gender, education, culture, language, climate, race, history, family, and many others.
It is hard to talk about this, but I think we need to do it. We need to listen how others do it or think about it, we need to question our selves why we do what we do, how affects others and also how affect us personally.
We are just one in a pile of opinions and actions, we do not have the answers and of course we are not right, but we are not wrong either.
So, what would the conversations to have, or should we keep it under the carpet?
(*) An NPR (National Public Radio in the USA) Podcast hosted by Shankar Vedantam in which the topics surround the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, the biases that shape our choices, and the trigger that directs the course of our relationships