X-Message-Number: 15775
From: "Mark Plus" <>

Subject: "Economic Scene: Social Science Needs to Catch Up With Genetic Science"
Date: Thu, 01 Mar 2001 08:33:21 -0800



March 1, 2001
Economic Scene: Social Science Needs to Catch Up With Genetic Science


THE field of genetics is moving at mach speed. In January, an international 
team of doctors announced plans to clone a human within 18 months. In 
February, two teams of researchers published a map of the human genome. 
While Wall Street frets over whether the discovery that the genome consists 
of "only around 30,000 genes" will limit the market value of genomics 
companies, the potential impact of genomics on the economy and society runs 
much deeper. Most fundamentally, cloning and genetic engineering could 
change the distribution of characteristics in the population.

By most accounts, the remaining technical hurdles are about to be cleared to 
make human cloning feasible. Cloning is a prerequisite for genetic 
engineering, the process of altering or adding genes to an embryo. If the 
experience of earlier reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization 
is a guide, the marketplace   not government regulation or prevailing 
ethical norms   will determine who avails themselves of cloning services. At 
an estimated cost of about $250,000 a clone, market forces loom large.

Although it ventures into the wilder realms of science fiction to ponder the 
effect all this will have on the population, some biologists and economists 
have begun to do just that.

The Princeton molecular biologist Lee M. Silver weaves a scenario in his 
book "Remaking Eden" (Hearst Books, 1997) that makes Malthus look like an 
optimist. If left to the marketplace, he argues, there is a real possibility 
that genetic engineering will lead to a two-class society, populated by 
well-off, genetically engineered "GenRich" individuals whose parents could 
afford genetic engineering, and impoverished "Naturals," conceived the 
old-fashioned way. He also foresees overpopulation, and the two classes 
splintering into distinct species, with the GenRich viewing Naturals much 
the way humans now view chimpanzees.

To many economists, Professor Silver's dismal forecast is, well, too dismal. 
Gilles Saint-Paul of Toulouse University has written a provocative paper, 
"The Economics of Human Cloning," that explores the impact of cloning if 
people seek it for a purely selfish reason: to capture part of the income 
earned by their clone. People also derive pleasure from having biological 
children in his model. He predicts that the most talented people will be 
cloned and the least talented women will be hired as surrogate mothers. 
After several generations, the distribution of income would become more 
nearly equal because fewer women would be willing to be surrogates at the 
market price.

Eventually, cloning produces a classless society in which demand for cloning 
disappears because everyone has high-ability genes.

The reason for this optimistic forecast is that economists tend to think 
prices eventually adjust in response to changes in supply or demand.

Suppose the work force consists of low- ability individuals (burger 
flippers) and high-ability individuals (entrepreneurs), who perform 
complementary tasks. If someone like Ray Kroc, McDonald's founder, is cloned 
dozens of times, increasing the supply of entrepreneurs, there would be a 
flood of fast-food restaurants, depressing the profit of entrepreneurs and 
increasing the demand for and pay of burger flippers. Market forces would 
place a check on the exploding income gap.

Whatever the impact of cloning, it appears researchers are on the verge of 
learning much more about the genetic determinants of health and other life 
outcomes than their social and environmental determinants. This imbalance is 
unfortunate   even dangerous   because, as Professor Silver observes: 
"Environment and genes stand side by side. Both contribute to a child's 
chances for achievement and success in life, although neither guarantees 
it." Moreover, even with the mapping of the genome, the molecular biologist 
Shirley Tilghman of Princeton says we are still in the Dark Ages when it 
comes to understanding the combinations of genes that contribute to 
intelligence and personality.

Environmental factors may be overlooked in a rush to develop drugs that are 
aimed at particular genes   even though environmental changes like preschool 
attendance or pollution abatement may be more cost-effective, more ethically 
acceptable and sometimes a prerequisite for genetic-based cures to work.

That environmental factors like education matter for economic outcomes is 
clear. For example, among identical twins   who are more alike genetically 
than clones would be because they receive the same mitochondrial DNA from 
their mother's egg   the twin with more education tends to earn a higher 

True, incomes are more highly correlated between identical twins than 
fraternal twins, suggesting that genes affect income. But the correlation is 
far from perfect and not all that much greater than for fraternal twins, 
which suggests that environmental factors are important.

Similarly, a study of 45,000 pairs of Scandinavian twins published in The 
New England Journal of Medicine last year found that among pairs of male 
twins, if one identical twin was diagnosed with cancer, there was a 29 
percent chance that the other was, too, while if a fraternal twin was 
diagnosed with cancer, his twin had a 22 percent chance.

Although such contrasts are fraught with problems   including the 
possibility of more similar environments for identical twins, a limited 
range of environmental differences, and interactions between genes and the 
environment   findings like these do suggest that environmental factors and 
luck are the main determinants of one's economic fortunes and health.

Apart from education, however, there is little concrete evidence on the 
environmental factors that contribute to economic success. And most research 
on which education approaches work best for different types of students, and 
why, remains in the Dark Ages.

Researchers are also in the dark as to why health outcomes are so much 
better for those with higher-status jobs, as was found in the White Hall 
studies of British civil servants.

To address the imbalance between the state of knowledge in genetics and the 
behavioral sciences, Dr. Jack Stenner, chief executive of MetaMetrics Inc. 
in Durham, N.C., proposes a Human Phenome Project   a concerted national 
effort to map the ways in which genetic and environmental factors interact 
to produce life's outcomes. After having financed much of the research that 
enabled scientists to map the human genome, maybe the National Institutes of 
Health could use some of its proposed $2.8 billion budget increase to begin 
this effort.

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