Thursday, 4 June 2009

Cloning and Economic Impacts

Observers have recently seen the field of genetics advance at an unprecedented pace. "Dolly" the first cloned sheep is only a few years old. We now view news reports of cloned cattle, and most experts suggest that the remaining technical hurdles to cloning human beings will soon be overcome. When human cloning becomes available, what will the market have to say about its use?

Some insights may be gained by looking at the market for human fertility services. Couples who might otherwise be childless are able to conceive children through expensive and time-consuming use of drugs such as Clomid® or Pergonal®. Those who fail with drug therapies may go on to "assisted reproductive technologies" (ART) such as in vitro fertilization in which an egg is fertilized in a laboratory and then carried by either the natural mother or a surrogate. Such procedures cost thousands of dollars and do not assure pregnancy. They are seldom covered by managed health care plans. Fertility treatment is definitely a "luxury good."
Observers are debating the possible market impacts of human cloning. Princeton molecular biologist Lee M. Silver argues that reproductive and "reprogenetic" technologies will be used exclusively by individuals and couples who are driven by the desires to have children, and by the desires to have these children be "better than normal in some way." Writing in the Hofstra Law Review, Silver sees a society in which social and economic classes are separated by the ability to afford the technology, noting "The power of reprogenetics is so great that those families and groups not able to afford its use could become severely disadvantaged. Thus, I believe the real ethical concern with reprogenetics is one of fairness and equality of access, not harm."

Economists wish to follow the market implications a bit further, and argue that cloning could conceivably reduce inequality rather than increase it. Consider baseball superstars such as Alex Rodriguez or Manny Ramirez, who both signed long-term multi-million dollar contracts during the 2000-2001 off-season. Gifted athletes have high earnings because there are few others like them. Suppose Rodriguez, Ramirez, or softball star and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Dot Richardson could be induced to provide the raw material for cloning. What would happen?

The incomes of the superstars, related in part to their scarcity, might decline, if every team could acquire a Rodriguez, Ramirez, or Richardson clone. Moreover, in a recent paper, French economist Gilles Saint-Paul argues over time the bottom of the income distribution might be raised for those who could be induced to be surrogate mothers for the clones by the higher market prices paid by willing buyers for their services.

We can only be sure that both the technology and the rewards will remain uncertain. After over twenty years of research and practice the success rate for ART fertilization is less than 50%. One might only conjecture how long it would be to achieve similar success rates for cloning.
Moreover, the rewards from cloning are also likely to be uncertain. Baseball superstar Jose Canseco has an identical twin brother named Ozzie. Identical twins, in a sense, are nature's clones. Jose Canseco has over 400 major league home runs in a long and distinguished career. Ozzie Canseco, in parts of three major league seasons, batted 65 times, with 13 hits, none of them home runs.