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Repugnance as a Constraint on Markets

27 Pages Posted: 20 Nov 2006 Last revised: 17 Sep 2010

Alvin E. Roth

HBS Negotiations, Organizations and Markets Unit; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Date Written: November 2006


This essay examines how repugnance sometimes constrains what transactions and markets we see. When my colleagues and I have helped design markets and allocation procedures, we have often found that distaste for certain kinds of transactions is a real constraint, every bit as real as the constraints imposed by technology or by the requirements of incentives and efficiency. I'll first consider a range of examples, from slavery and indentured servitude (which once were not as repugnant as they now are) to lending money for interest (which used to be widely repugnant and is now not), and from bans on eating horse meat in California to bans on dwarf tossing in France. An example of special interest will be the widespread laws against the buying and selling of organs for transplantation. The historical record suggests that while repugnance can change over time, change can be quite slow.

Suggested Citation

Roth, Alvin E., Repugnance as a Constraint on Markets (November 2006). NBER Working Paper No. w12702. Available at SSRN:

Alvin E. Roth (Contact Author)

HBS Negotiations, Organizations and Markets Unit ( email )

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Boston, MA 02163
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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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