Milking Markets

Marketplace from American Public Media and Kate Wells from Michigan Public Radio recently reported the efforts of Medolac Laboratories, a Delaware corporation with Oregon headquarters that sells breast milk to critically ill newborns and infants around the world. Some object that Medolac doesn’t disclose where it sends the milk while others suggest that it could encourage mothers to sell all their milk and, in so doing, neglect their own children.

These objections seem less concerns about the sale of breast milk, whatever one thinks about this possibility, and more about the realities of markets. The first seems, at least in part, more an issue of the scope of markets — should breast milk from Michigan mothers, for example, be only or primarily or at least initially available to Michigan children? The second objection, in a different way, seems an issue about the effects of markets — can financial incentives produce negative consequences?

Markets certainly have problems, such as a need for inequality and an emphasis upon individualism, but they can solve problems. In, for example, this situation, markets could increase the supply of breast milk through financial incentives, which not only benefits the donors, as Medolac suggests, but also other mothers and their babies, especially preterm babies who reportedly benefit from the exclusive use of human milk.

Markets, despite mixed effects, can be powerful means to mutually beneficial ends, and no realistic alternative, given their presence and strength, exist, at least in the foreseeable future. As a result, the focus should be limiting their excesses while maximizing their contributions and benefits

In other words, markets are made and maintained by communities, which must also manage them. How, in this instance, can markets provide more milk while recognizing the costs of those who produce and, I suppose, distribute it?

While the usefulness of distribution systems is obvious, the costs of producers, who materially contribute to the exchange, seem easier to recognize.

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