Economic aspects of human cloning and reprogenetics

Gilles Saint-Paul

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While most discussions of human cloning start and end with ethics, this paper analyses the economics of human cloning. I analyse the incentives for cloning and its implications for the long-run distribution of skills and income. I discuss models of human cloning for different motives, focusing on those that tend to produce new human beings with improved ability. I distinguish three cases: cloning as a means of assisted reproduction for infertile couples, cloning by fertile couples aimed at producing high ability offspring and, finally, financially motivated cloning. The third case supposes that the creator of a clone can appropriate some fraction of the clone's future income. Even if this fraction is small, the possibility of producing exceptionally talented clones with correspondingly high incomes might make it profitable, and thus turn cloning into a form of financial investment. An important consequence of these models is that to the extent that ability is genetically determined and cloners prefer to make high-ability clones, cloning will act as a form of what might be called 'unnatural selection'. Following standard Darwinian logic, such selection will tend to increase the proportion of high ability people in society. Indeed, under some assumptions the distribution of ability eventually converges to a mass point at the highest possible ability level. Under weaker assumptions, it is shown that ability-reducing genes are eventually eliminated. These results do not depend on cloning displacing sexual reproduction or even being widespread; they hold even if a small, or even negligible number of top ability workers are cloned at a small (but not negligible) number of copies. The paper discusses the plausibility of the models and their results in light on the evidence on marriage markets, child selection, human assisted reproduction and animal husbandry. Finally, it is shown how the analysis can be used to help formulate policies toward cloning, whether they aim at preventing it or managing its external effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)73-122
Number of pages50
JournalEconomic Policy
Issue number36
StatePublished - Apr 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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