When Desperate Consumers Meet Opportunistic Businessmen
I Just watched a film called Dirty Pretty Things. It depicts a seedier side of London. A London where illegal immigrants sell their kidneys for forged passports. They do this so that they can live normal lives, be recognized as human beings in a place where being without proper documents can mean having to eke out a living like rats in the sewers of the underground economy. The operations are butcheries, and some survive, most don’t.
Okwe, a doctor from Nigeria, is living in exile. He is working two jobs, one as a bellboy at a hotel and one as a taxi driver. He is obviously in London illegally. Things begin to heat up when his hotel manager, who is fully aware of his illegal status, gets wind that he is also a doctor. The manager runs a lucrative organ harvesting operation on the side, and wants Okwe to help. He refuses. The story then goes through various levels of complications, there is a girl involved, and Okwe feels compelled to do things that he dislikes. The entire move is quite enlightening, I suggest you watch it. But I’ll skip the spoilers and get to what I wanted to write about.
The operations manager, lets call him the villain, justifies the whole thing because he is in the business of making people happy; the immigrant gets a passport so he is happy; the villain sells the kidney for ten thousand pounds so he is happy; and a dying rich person gets a new kidney and a new lease on life so they are happy.
When it comes down to it, it’s all just plain economics. The villain is exploiting a ready market, he is an intermediary. Intermediaries spring up wherever there is a demand for a product and a ready supply. He connects the buyer with the seller, and finishes the deal. Of course he is a villain because he uses sub-standard medical procedures, unqualified doctors and plainly exploits his suppliers. People die because the industry is not regulated. There are no laws pertaining to quality standards, no periodical checks to ensure procedures are done with safety. The law has only one standpoint; the industry shouldn’t even exist. But things like law and policing can’t really stop the forces of supply and demand, if they really want to intersect.
Therefore our villain doesn’t use proper equipment and qualified doctors because he can’t find them, or simply wants to maximize profits so he opts for cheaper alternatives. The system does not give health services to those outside its limits, because what it can’t see doesn’t exist. Illegal organ transplants is a criminal operation, never mind that most of its victims participate voluntarily, because they are desperate.
One might argue that desperation doesn’t really consist of demand, that it is callous to equate people who have no other option with something as everyday and normal as a market force. I would tend to agree. Desperation more often than not comes from oppression. People are driven to desperation by things like poverty and war. And possibly, it is with the forces that perpetrate these atrocities that the blame lies. The countries they are running away from are often run by corrupt regimes where people have no rights. Banana republics exploited for their natural resources by their ruling elites and behind the scenes, multinational corporations with the implicit support of the very countries towards which the desperate immigrants run to. Do you see the irony?
So who is to blame? Where does the moral responsibility rest? Does morality even have a role? Morality here is outsourced, everyone is technically happy. Except those at the bottom who are just technically desperate. They are reaped like so many harvests.
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