Voluntarism or Self-Interest? – by Walter Williams


How many things in our lives would we like to depend upon the generosity and selflessness of our fellow man, and do you think we would like the outcome? You say, “Williams, are you now putting down generosity and selflessness?” No, I’m not. Let me ask the question in a more direct way. Say you want a nice three-bedroom house. Which human motivation do you think would get you the house sooner: the generosity of builders or the builders’ desire to earn some money? What about a nice car? Which motivation of auto companies and their workers do you trust will get you a car sooner: the generosity of owners and workers, or owner desire for profits and worker desire for wages?

As for me, I put my faith in people’s self-interest as the most reliable way to get them to do what I want and believe most other people share my faith. What would your prediction be about the supply of housing, cars and most other things if Congress enacted a law mandating that a house or car could only be donated, not sold? If you said there would be a shortage of houses and cars, go to the head of the class.

Bone marrow transplantation is a relatively new medical procedure that is used to treat diseases once thought incurable such as leukemia, aplastic anemia, Hodgkin’s disease, immune deficiency disorders and some solid tumors such as breast and ovarian cancer. Every year, at least 1,000 Americans die and others suffer because they cannot find a matching bone marrow donor. The reason why there is a shortage of donors is the National Organ Transplant Act (NOTA), enacted by Congress in 1984. NOTA makes it illegal to give anything of value in exchange for bone marrow and that includes, for example, giving a college student a scholarship or a new homeowner a mortgage payment. Everyone involved in such a transaction — doctors, nurses, donors and patients — risks up to five years in a federal penitentiary.

There might be light at the end of the tunnel because the Washington-based Institute for Justice (ij.org), one of my very favorite liberty-oriented organizations, has brought suit against this inhumane practice of the U.S.


Congress. The suit, Flynn v. Holder, was filed in the Los Angeles Division of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on Oct. 26, 2009. Doreen Flynn, the plaintiff, is the mother of five children, three of whom have Fanconi anemia, a serious genetic disorder affecting the blood whose sufferers often need a bone marrow transplant during their teen years.

The Institute for Justice is not challenging Congress’ ban on compensation for solid organs such as hearts, kidneys and livers. Instead, the lawsuit challenges only the provision of National Organ Transplant Act that bans compensation for bone marrow. The premise of the Institute for Justice’s legal challenge is that there is a fundamental biological distinction between renewable marrow cells and nonrenewable solid organs. In the case of bone marrow, the donor’s bone marrow is completely replenished in a few weeks. That’s less time than it takes for the human body to fully replenish a pint of donated blood that is often sold to blood banks.

Just about everyone would agree that there would be massive shortages and discontent if there were a congressional mandate that we must depend on our fellow man’s generosity for our home, our car, our food and thousands of other items that we use. Why then must a person depend on his fellow man’s generosity for an item like bone marrow that might mean the difference between life and death? There is no rhyme or reason for the congressional prohibition of bone marrow other than arbitrary unconstitutional abuse of power that far too many Americans tolerate and would like to see extended to other areas of our lives.

  • bubba4

    Wow…you guys can treat anything as an issue of government intervention screwing up what would otherwise be fine.

    How about an article about how Federal Child Labor laws are an abomination to the constitution and preventing hard working kids from earing a little pocket cash like they used to “in the good old days”.

    Bone marrow does replinish, especially in young, healthy individuals. However, if it was as simpe and easy as the author makes it out to be, they would take bone marrow at the blood bank the same way they do blood.

  • http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=index Broughton

    Who ever decided it's “unethical” to sell organs? It isn't unethical for the doctor to charge money to put the organ in. Bravo, Walter Williams. Ayn Rand established long ago that altruism is a very weak motivator, and this is the perfect case in point. That's why capitalism is far more humane than socialism.

  • paardestaart

    Well Bubba: I propose that it would be inhuman to try and protect poor children if you tried to achieve that by making it illegal for them to work, period. How about children who have no parents or family to take care of them? Forbidding them to earn would mean sentencing them to starve, to beg or to crime.
    Why should ethics be made compulsive?
    Why should others have to decide about your ethics?
    Are there 'ethics' in the Ten Commandments..?

  • bubba4

    That is a dumbest thing I have ever heard.

    You can honestly convince yourself of anything can't you.

  • USMCSniper

    Minimum wage increases mandated by the government recently are why there is even a higher rate of unemployment. Last week, the Labor Department reported that youth unemployment stands at 18.2%, nearly twice the national average of 9.8%. The percentage of young people without a job is a staggering 53.4 percent, the highest figure since World War II. Those in the age group of 16-24 are most often the demographic who are hired for entry-level positions and groomed to take over high-level positions in the future.

    Moreover, youth of color are disportionately effected by high unemployment. Nearly 40% of black youth (ages 16-19) and 30% of Latino youth (16-19) are unemployed versus only 23% of white youth. As youth of color get older, the gap widens-27.1% of black youth between the ages of 20-24 are unemployed versus 13.1% of white youth in the same age rage. This high unemployment rate for young people is startling because without more job opportunities, young people suffer not only in the short-term, but long-term. Their ability to attend college, afford healthcare, purchase homes, and save for retirement leads to long-term problems.

    Like I said before bubba4, you are really too stupid to even suspect you are stupid.

  • coyote3

    Thank goodness I was lucky enough to work as a youngester in agriculture/range ranching that were exempt from the minimum wage. I would have not been able to get those jobs, had they been subject to the minimum wage. For a while, my income supplemented that of my parents working on the farms/ranches. It probably kept us from exteme poverty.

  • paardestaart

    Dumb? Really?
    Arguments, my man..?!
    Jeering is n't enough, not from where I'm standing.
    But maybe you're only carrying signs, mostly saying hurray for our side?

  • bubba4

    I didn't say “youth”…I said “child” labor laws. You seem to think that because you can google shit that you're a genius and you aren't even paying attention to what is being said.

  • bubba4

    Yeah, I know it's crazy…but I think not letting kids work in mines and factories is a good thing. I used to mow lawns and do other work as a minor for cash, but obviously that is not what I am talking about.

    I was making a joke. I didn't imagine that you guys would actually try to defend child labor by just pretending we were talking about something else. Sigh.