The Economics of the Baby Shortage: A Horrifying Counter-example

In Landes and Posner’s famous, The Economics of the Baby Shortage, the authors consider the possibility that baby buyers are likely to self-selecting monsters.  Not so, they argue, as

“Moreover, concern for child abuse should not be allowed to obscure the fact that abuse is not the normal motive for adopting a child.  And once we put abuse aside, willingness to pay money for a baby would seem on the whole a reassuring factor from the standpoint of child welfare. Few people buy a car or television set to smash it.  In general, the more costly a purchase, the more care the purchaser will lavish on it.”

I’ve always found these lines to be particularly bizarre  (even in the context of an otherwise famously provocative, probably misleading, essay). In any event, they came to mind when a student in my L&E class forwarded on this chilling story.

“KIEL, Wisconsin, Sept 9 (Reuters) – Todd and Melissa Puchalla struggled more than two years to raise Quita, the troubled teenager they’d adopted from Liberia. When they decided to give up the 16-year-old, they found new parents to take her in less than two days – by posting an ad on the Internet…”

“Nicole and Calvin Eason, an Illinois couple in their 30s, responded quickly. In emails, Nicole Eason assured Melissa Puchalla that she could handle the girl. “People that are around me think I am awesome with kids,” Eason wrote.

A few weeks later, on Oct. 4, 2008, the Puchallas drove from their Wisconsin home to Westville, Illinois. The handoff took place at the Country Aire Mobile Home Park, where the Easons lived.

No attorneys or child welfare officials were present. The Puchallas simply signed a notarized statement declaring these virtual strangers to be Quita’s guardians. The visit lasted a few hours. It was the first and the last time the couples would meet.

To Melissa Puchalla, the Easons “seemed wonderful.” Had she vetted them more closely, she might have discovered what Reuters would learn:

* Child welfare authorities had taken away both Nicole Eason’s biological children years earlier. A sheriff’s deputy wrote that the couple had “violent tendencies.”

* The only official document attesting to their parenting skills – one purportedly drafted by a social worker who had inspected the Easons’ home – was fake, created by the Easons themselves.

* Nicole Eason and another man, Randy Winslow, had taken in a 10-year-old boy advertised online in 2006. Later, Winslow was arrested and is now serving a 20-year sentence in federal prison for sending and receiving child pornography.

On Quita’s first night with the Easons, her new guardians told her to join them in their bed, Quita says today. The Easons say they never shared their bed with any child they took in, but Quita remembers it vividly; Nicole, she says, slept naked.

Within a few days of dropping Quita there, Melissa Puchalla couldn’t reach the Easons and had no idea what had become of the girl. About two weeks passed before authorities located her, took her from the Easons and sent her back to Wisconsin – alone, on a bus.”

Yup.  It’s a perfectly safe assumption (if assumptions mattered) that people who buy kids on exchanges are just like everyone else…

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6 Responses

  1. Ken Rhodes says:

    Dave, the article you linked (if assumptions mattered) was not literally “impossible to read,” but it was figuratively. Here’s a simpler look at “safe assumptions.”

    In the real world, assumptions are “safe” only to the extent that one can afford for them to be incorrect. If we knew they were true, they wouldn’t be “assumptions,” they would be “facts.” And if we don’t know they’re true, we have to be prepared to pay the cost of them being false.

  2. dave hoffman says:

    I’m not quite sure I understand your comment. Can you try again? Are you saying you disagree with Friedman or agree with him. (Honest question – totally don’t understand the comment’s gist.)

  3. Ben Jackson says:

    Asserting that people don’t normally purchase a car so as to abuse it, does not help one’s argument about the “sale” of children. Cars do not have any rights. Children do.

  4. Joe says:

    “the normal motive” is a red flag

    This leaves open others, like saying the ‘normal motive’ of buying food is to eat it, not some other reason. True enough, but numerous people buy food for other reasons. Normally, this is not an issue, but when we are talking about human beings, it is more likely to be a problem at times.

    As noted, use of money to buy things might suggest you ‘value’ it, but perhaps not for a reason society is likely to always find legitimate. We enter “a person with a hammer thinks everything is a nail” territory at some point here.

  5. Joe says:

    ETA: And, people aren’t ‘things,’ which complicates things, obviously, but the matter holds whatever we are concerned about here that has a certain value.

  6. Dan Culley says:

    I’m confused. The story doesn’t seem to have any relevance to the quote at all: the people in the story didn’t pay to adopt the girl. In fact, given that adoptive parents do pay huge sums of money to adoption agencies to cover administrative costs, and the overwhelming majority of them are good parents, then if anything it would seem to show the opposite.

    All the story you link to shows is that it, if this is widespread, it might be beneficial to require background checks of potential adoptive parents. (I thought this was already required, but haven’t researched it.) But given that the the initial parents seem to have passed the background checks, yet still are neglectfully handing off their adoptive children to people without investigating them, it’s far from certain that would do much.

    So, I suppose I don’t quite understand your point, the problem you think you’ve identified, or the solution you are proposing.