Baby Selling and Slavery

Over at Overcoming Bias, Robin Hanson responds to the WaPo:

A year after Guatemala’s emergence as the second-largest foreign source of babies for adoption to the United States, a new push by the Guatemalan government to wrest control of the process from private agencies has stirred an emotional backlash from thousands of prospective adoptive parents in the United States. …Guatemala’s solicitor general, Mario Gordillo, … worries that thousands of desperately poor Guatemalan women are being induced to conceive children for adoption by private brokers offering as much as $3,000 a baby.

“Guatemala has converted into a baby-producing nation,” Gordillo said at his office in Guatemala City. “Our children come into this world to be products for sale. . . . It’s as if they were a car. What model is it? And who wants to buy it?” The debate raging in Guatemala echoes previous controversies that have led to the suspension of adoptions from Romania to Cambodia. …

This is amazingly sad. It is in general a good thing if willing women are induced by money to have babies families want to adopt. Not only do the woman and the family benefit, but the baby gets a life! Positive externalities don’t get much larger than this. We need lower, not higher, barriers to such exchange.

This is followed by a number of very learned arguments focusing on abstractions, and on bizarre arguments that posit that human life is a net neutral or net negative in the Universe. My response is:

I find it curious that I’ve come to the end of this thread about the buying and selling of babies and nobody has mentioned the elephant in the room: Slavery. Given that slavery is a great moral evil, is there a way to buy and sell children that prevents the evil of slavery? I don’t see any evil in adoption. Nor do I see any evil in a woman giving up a child for adoption, or in getting paid for her time and effort. The tout, the lawyer, and the social worker (whose livelihoods depend on putting up barriers against adoption and collecting money from people for serving as middlemen) are in less morally clear positions. I do not believe that human life is a bad thing, but rather a good. And I certainly believe that free exchange of goods and services, leading to specialization, is a good thing.

If the baby grows up to be a free, educated adult (not enslaved) who can make a positive contribution to society and humanity, without being abused along the way, then it’s all good.

But if the baby grows up to be an enslaved adult, or one who is unable to make a positive contribution to society or becomes a parasite or criminal, then it’s bad.

So given those value judgements, how can adoption, even adoption with pay going to the mother, be structured to maximize the first probability and minimize the second? Are government adoption agencies able to achieve these goals or should adoptions be handled by churches or some other types of (for profit) organizations rather than governments?

Isn’t that the important question, rather than the question of whether babies should be adopted out for money instead of adopted out for no money, or killed before they can be born?

Trackposted to Outside the Beltway, Rosemary’s Thoughts, Adam’s Blog, The World According to Carl, The Pink Flamingo, Big Dog’s Weblog, Leaning Straight Up, Chuck Adkins, Stageleft, Pursuing Holiness, and Right Voices, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe.

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10 responses to “Baby Selling and Slavery

  1. how is slavery at all plausible here? Have you heard something about adoptees turned into slaves?

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  3. fabiusmaximus2000

    I echo the above comment. I missed a step or two in the logic!

  4. Hi Robin,

    Thanks for following back here. I was very impressed by your blog.

    There are plenty of modern-day slaves, in Africa, the Muslim countries of the middle east, and parts of Asia, and many of them are sex slaves destined to be prostitutes from their early years. Specifically, there is concern about human trafficking originating in Guatemala.

    Is this a problem with American adoptive parents? I don’t think it’s a common problem, but with 300 million Americans there are a million or so really bad ones who would try it, given the chance. How many of them have enough money to try it? Read about Judith Leekin for a warning.

    That’s why I think that the exchange of money is not the problem in itself. Slavery is the problem. So I explicitly changed the subject.


  5. fabiusmaximus2000

    I’ll echo that with emphasis! The resurgence of slavery in Africa and parts of Asia is a tragedy, one of the big post-WWII geopolitical failures.

    The fears of sex slavery in America, from the early 20th century stories of “white slavery” thru recent headlines about human trafficing, have consitently been found to be grossly exaggerated. It exists at a low incidence, as like most fundamental evils it cannot be eradicated.

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  8. FM, precisely! The USA is not the bogeyman when it comes to enslaving Guatemalans, whatever the propaganda that is being whispered over the back fences there. But there are bogeymen out there. Some groups and individuals actively practice the enslavement of others. If Guatemala encourages a market in children, how can it prevent its children from being adopted by slavers?

    I don’t have an answer. But I think there must be one.

  9. The answer was colonialization, using western military force to enforce western values (e.g., stop burning widows in India, slavery everywhere). Now that’s gone. Perhaps all we can do is wall ourselves off — to maintain a santuary in which our values can survive or even flourish — and send missionaries abroad.

  10. But colonialism is not an answer Guatemala can implement. What can Guatemala do?