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The Value in Cloning

April 21, 2010

Always one to ignite a firestorm, Bryan Caplan takes a fairly controversial stance on cloning:

I confess that I take anti-cloning arguments personally. Not only do they insult the identical twin sons I already have; they insult a son I hope I live to meet. Yes, I wish to clone myself and raise the baby as my son. Seriously. I want to experience the sublime bond I’m sure we’d share. I’m confident that he’d be delighted, too, because I would love to be raised by me. I’m not pushing others to clone themselves. I’m not asking anyone else to pay for my dream. I just want government to leave me and the cloning business alone. Is that too much to ask?

Read about Tyler Cowen’s views, and the comments discussion at MR.

I’m not opposed to human cloning, so I suppose that part of the book isn’t aimed toward me. Although, looking at my copy of “The Myth of the Rational Voter”, he should hire me to design the cover (*hint*). However, and I don’t think this is an argument against Brian, it’s really hard to say that “I like me, so my clone will like me”. Unless you have better data on the nature/nurture divide than Bowles and Gintis…I’d say that it is pretty much a grey area whether that is true.

You could argue on the basis that since we have an evolutionary “flight” algorithm that tells us to inherently distrust things which are different than us that his clone would like him, but this is pretty flimsy.

Which brings me to my point, cloning humans could potentially put to rest the entire nature vs. nurture debate, beyond a shadow of a doubt. With the proper controls, longitudinal studies could be done on the first generation of cloned humans, and then in 20 years or so, we would have all the answers we needed. That would certainly create a ton of value for society as a whole.

Is that value worth it for you to overcome your moral repugnance?

For what it’s worth, I think Bryan should keep the passage in the book. I would value the ensuing debate much more greatly than I value Bryan’s reputation — so he should allow me my consumer surplus, and take on all the risk. That’s my selfish reason.

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Immediate Update: I predict that Bryan’s prediction is completely accurate. “Social acceptance” (for lack of a better word) is a network good, and like all network goods, involves tipping points. This is a rather unsurprising fact that is clear in all of the great civil rights debates in history — slavery, women’s suffrage, integration, gay/lesbian rights, etc. As soon as the tipping point is reached, a societal change in attitude happens very quickly (from a historical perspective).

As an aside, I work close to a “new age supply store”, the proprietors of which strongly believe in the “hundredth monkey phenomenon“, and would not listen to reason when I tried to explain to them about how networks work.

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