The Political Economy of Repugnance

Michael Thomas

Advisor: Peter Boettke

Committee Members: David Levy, Virgil Storr, Mercatus Center

Enterprise Hall, 318
April 16, 2009, 08:00 PM to 07:00 PM


Repugnance is an important part of political decision-making. It creates constraints over the choice set. Understanding how these constraints interact with economic activity and change over time is an important aspect of political economy.

The first essay considers the origin of dynamic models of social coordination in the texts of Bernard Mandeville, Adam Smith, and Jeremy Bentham. Both Smith’s criticism of Mandeville and Bentham’s critique of Smith outline necessary conditions of social evolution. This defines the space of the repugnance problem.

The second essay looks at Richard Titmuss’s case against markets in whole blood. Richard Titmuss identifies a market failure in the market for blood that he attributes to the profit incentive. The alternative view is that a market process ultimately solves market failure problems. I evaluate these two limiting conditions by accounting for time preference and political entrepreneurship.

The last essay treats the current global shortage for organs. I first argue that markets are not intrinsically repugnant. They offer a mechanism of reducing waitlists for organs. Next, I explore the argument that organ transplants themselves are a source of repugnance. Initiatives that use reciprocity based exchange reduce repugnance and increase donations. Finally, I look at repugnance as a justification for prohibition. I offer a skeptical but progressive theory relying on experimentation with different institutional structures.