In This Economy, People Turn to Their Bodies to Pay the Bills


How intimately do we feel about human body? For some it's a holy space, and an irrevocable gift, and for others, it can create perfectly valid and just elements of a transaction. Hair, blood, sperm, sex and even kidneys — all items for sale (only some legally) as the public continues to feel the tightening grip of a slow economic recovery. Just as the internet has provided a boom in our late and great information economy, it has just as critically become the foundation of the body market, where parts of the human body can be bought and sold easily through online search engines and other communications technology.

Nicholas Colas, a chief market strategist, found a particularly interesting trend while working for the New York-based ConvergEx Group, a brokerage and trading-related services for institutional investors company. Since the start of 2011, "hair," "eggs," or "kidney" have been among the top four autofill results for the Google search query, "I want to sell my ...", reflecting the recent rise in both the supply and demand trends in the human merchandise industry. Colas specifically tracks off-the-grid economic indicators and recognizes the crucial nature of these types of sales on economic stability. The fact that they have been trending can only illustrate a certain level of economic desperation. 

There are essentially two problems faced by the human market. First is an issue of safety. While countless types of transactions are legal, this also means they go through strict inspection and vetting processes to ensure a safe product, certainly a quality we all demand. However in the U.S. and like-minded countries, it's illegal to sell body parts, and they can only be taken from donors who give consent before they are deceased or who are willing to give out of pure generosity. Thus this trade is performed under the table, giving it no accountability for its products, not to mention a violent background in obtaining certain products in the first place. Wired's article "Inside the Business of Selling Human Body Parts" shows an intriguing and terrifying world dependent on illegal organs. 

Secondly, those who attempt to sell legal parts face the issue of time. Often, due to the examination processes, sales are frustratingly long-term, like when a woman sells her eggs. Since the time commitment and inspecting processes necessitate such a long-term obligation, people are more inclined to sell what will likely make money quickly, often times engaging in dangerous and unregulated practices like prostitution in extremely dire circumstances.

While the World Health Organization estimates that only 10% global needs for organ transplantation are being met, the demand for the most severe and risky of human body parts sales show no signs of slowing.