Nicola Lacetera, Toronto University

Ethical concerns and the reach of markets: A choice experiment on Americans’ views about paying kidney donors


Regulation and public policies are often the result of competition and compromise between different views and interests. In several cases, strongly held moral beliefs voiced by societal groups lead lawmakers to prohibit certain transactions or to prevent them from occurring through markets. However, there is limited evidence about the specific nature of the general population’s opposition to using prices in such contentious transactions. We conducted a choice experiment on a representative sample of Americans to examine preferences for legalizing payments to kidney donors. We found strong polarization, with many participants in favor or against payments regardless of potential supply gains. However, about 20% of respondents would switch to supporting payments for large enough supply gains. Preferences for compensation have strong moral foundations. Participants especially reject direct payments by patients, which they find would violate principles of fairness. We corroborate the interpretation of our findings with the analysis of a costly decision to donate money to a foundation that supports donor compensation.

Nicola Lacetera is an Associate Professor at the University of Toronto, chief scientist at Behavioral Economics in Action at Rotman, and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, among other things. His research concerns the ethical constraints to markets, the motivations for altruistic behavior, and various topics in industrial and innovation economics