Blood Markets and Blood Culture

Second of three guest posts by Enrique Guerra-Pujol

It’s the natural order. [We] are predators. You and your kind are prey, that’s all. To survive, we must feed on your blood.

– Arkley the vampire in David Wellington’s Laura Caxton Vampire Series

In my previous post, I considered human-centered arguments against blood markets: either we don’t believe in vampires or we fear them. Now, let’s consider a different set of arguments against blood markets and the possibility of human-vampire trade generally — not from our human point of view, but rather from the point of view of the vampires!

Vampire superiority complex

Won’t vampires see bargaining with humans as beneath them? I call this the “vampire superiority complex.” One commentator (Owen), for example, wrote that “most vampires consider themselves to be superior beings to humans … and as such have no compunction about ‘stealing’ blood to feed them[selves].” Along the same line, another commentator (Davo) identified a “critical error” in my market argument. “In most vampire lore,” Davo wrote, “[vampires] are a different (more advanced) species.” In support of this claim, Davo produced my favorite comment — perhaps the most memorable one in the entire Freakonomics thread — “Asking vampires to buy human blood is like asking humans to buy a ham hock off a pig.”

This line of argument offers an alternative explanation of vampire violence. Vampires are violent not because of the lack of blood markets (my claim in my essay “Buy or Bite?” in chapter 12 of Economics of the Undead) but rather because they are culturally and biologically superior to humans. Because of their superiority, vampires view humans as prey. Consider, by way of example, this statement by Arkley the vampire in David Wellington’s Laura Caxton Vampire Series: “It’s the natural order. [We] are predators. You and your kind are prey, that’s all. To survive, we must feed on your blood.” In other words, predators don’t negotiate with prey; they hunt and kill them instead.

Certainly, I do not deny that vampires are an accomplished and talented lot. Nor do I deny that most vampires probably view humans as prey and not as possible trading partners. Let us assume, then, that vampires are not only a different species but also a more advanced species than us humans. What effect would these assumptions have on the market for blood? Do such innate vampire feelings of superiority inhibit such trade or make such markets more likely to occur?

I could be wrong, of course, but my conjecture is that vampires will prefer trading to hunting precisely because of their cultural superiority. In other words, the cultural superiority argument strengthens — not weakens — the case for human-vampire trade! Here’s why:

If vampires are so smart, they will immediately grasp the advantages of trading over hunting. Simply put, the prospect of hunting for human blood is not an attractive one because such behavior invites lethal retaliation from vampire slayers. A legal market, by contrast, promises to supply the vampire race with regular and stable supply of blood at the best possible price.

In other words, even if vampires are somehow culturally or biologically superior to humans in every possible way, why would any individual vampire want to waste time and effort hunting for blood or invite the risk of deadly retaliation if a safer and more attractive option (legal markets) were available to him or her?

But what if vampires prefer the thrill of the hunt to the security and stability of a legal market? What if vampires prefer raiding to trading?

Cultural path dependence

One commentator in particular (Cuylar Conly) observed that “taking blood by force may be so culturally ingrained among vampires that … there is cultural barrier against [trade].” Simply put, vampires prefer raiding to trading; hunting for human blood is what distinguishes the vampire way of life from other forms of life. This observation thus presents a powerful cultural argument against the possibility of human-vampire trade: the problem of centuries-old, deeply entrenched cultural habits in the vampire world — the problem of “cultural path dependence.”

The simple idea that past choices limit our present and future choices is often referred to as “path dependence” in the economics literature. In brief, path dependence explains how one’s choice set (in the case of vampires, raid or trade) is limited by the decisions one has made in the past. Here, I extend the concept of path dependence to embrace culture or cultural customs — what I shall refer to as “cultural path dependence.” In other words, even if “trading” (buying blood) is theoretically better than hunting or “raiding” (taking blood by force), there might nevertheless be large social and psychological “switching costs” in moving from raiding to trading.

Simply put, raiding or hunting for blood might be so deeply entrenched in the vampire world that bargaining and trading for blood are mentally ruled out as a realistic option, or in the words of one commentator, “taking blood by force may be so culturally ingrained among vampires that … there is cultural barrier against [trade].” In other words, given so many centuries of predatory habits and customs, vampires might by now be culturally disposed to raiding or culturally resistant to trading.

Again, the problem of cultural path dependence poses a non-trivial objection. It requires us to explore the complex relation between markets and culture. After all, markets do not arise in a vacuum or out of thin air. Markets are embedded in specific cultures and ways of life; so markets are unlikely to arise in a culture (say, vampire culture) that prefers raiding to trading or in a culture that prefers gift-giving to buying and selling.

Okay, fine, I get that. But don’t markets, in turn, shape culture? Put another way, is the relationship between markets and culture a symbiotic one? A one-way or a two-way street?

My conjecture is that markets and culture exert a reciprocal or symbiotic influence on each other. To be sure, culture (human or vampire) shapes what things can and should be gifted or traded and whether raiding is preferred to trading, or vice-versa. But the activity of trading — or the propensity to “truck, barter, and exchange” — also occurs in most human cultures, a fundamental insight that goes back to the work of Adam Smith, if not earlier to Aristotle.

So, why would vampire culture — predatory though it has been due to the lack of legal markets or vampires’ superiority complex — be immune from this logic? Why would vampire culture be immune from this general tendency towards trading, trucking, or bartering? Even raiding, for example, requires some level of cooperation among the raiders (or “honor among thieves”), and cooperation among raiders opens the door to good faith and mutually beneficial trading on a wider scale…

…but let us assume that vampires are, in fact, culturally or socially resistant to trading due to cultural path dependence, that vampires prefer raiding to trading. Is there any realistic possibility of moving from a raiding equilibrium to a trading equilibrium given the vampire preference and cultural disposition for raiding?

We will never know unless we try, but my conjecture is yes. By legalizing trade in blood — specifically, by respecting our property rights in blood and by enforcing human-vampire contracts for the purchase and sale of blood — law can play a decisive role in changing the cultural equilibrium from raiding to trading. By the same token, without clear legal rules and enforcement mechanisms — without a legal structure — the problem of cultural path dependence will no doubt prevent many mutually beneficial trades from happening in the first place.

But wouldn’t such blood markets be self-destructive? I call this the problem of “peak blood,” and I consider this possibility in my last blog post in this series…

3 responses to “Blood Markets and Blood Culture

  • Savannah Melzer

    Speaking of trust and culture between vampires and humans, one question we must ask ourselves is what legal standards do each side abide by? If vampires ignore certain legal standards, that would specifically affect a trade market, this would certainly throw the scales between a transaction.

  • Hannah Colston

    While I do agree that markets have the potential to shape culture, I do not believe that this is a change that can be made overnight. In the long run the idea of vampires evolving and sharing our mindset to “trade” rather than “raid” may be attainable. However, this won’t be an immediate change. Before we can take any steps forward in the endeavor to create a blood market, we must first ensure that vampires will abide by the legal standards we set forth. If this is not ensured, the creation of this market could backfire and lead to more violence than when we started.

  • enrique

    Thank you for these thoughtful comments. I agree that trust is essential for any market to work properly, and I also concur that the relationship between law and trust is a complex one … To the extent some (most?) vampires won’t play by the rules of a legal market, then we will still need vampire slayers!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: