Finally, ongoing research will eventually enable researchers to employ new genetic control variables, thereby improving the power of statistical procedures.
Much of the promise of genoeconomics is based in part on economists’ long tradition of policy analysis. The economic approach is one in which governments are not seen as infallible custodians of the public good, but rather as separate actors that often have their own objectives (Stigler, 1971). Information economics may also play an important role in the analysis of policy questions. Economists have identified competitive forces that cause individuals to reveal information that is privately beneficial but potentially socially harmful. Economists understand how the public release of certain genetic information can theoretically undermine insurance institutions and thereby inefficiently increase social inequality. Genoeconomics will also identify specific gene-environment interactions with policy implications. For example, imagine that particular genes turn out to be associated with risk factors for poor educational outcomes, poor performance in the labor market, and consequently low levels of income. Imagine too that particular educational interventions are found that mitigate these disadvantages. Then gene-based policies could target disadvantaged at-risk groups with focused interventions. Such interventions will remain purely speculative until the necessary precursor research is implemented and ethical questions are resolved, but focused interventions nevertheless hold considerable long-run potential.
Despite the promise of genoeconomics, there are clearly enormous pitfalls. Even under the best of circumstances—in which a particular genetic pathway has been clearly established—there are concerns about informing individuals of their own risks, especially when there are few interventions to alleviate those risks or when the risks are very small. Providing information to parents about the genome of a fetus or a child creates a different set of dilemmas, including the risk of selective abortion. This has been well discussed with reference to a genetic endowment as straightforward as gender; in many societies economic investment in a daughter is seen as less beneficial than economic investment in a son (e.g., Garg and Morduch, 1998). If the same issues arose in relation to more complex economic traits, a host of ethical and policy questions would arise. Documenting the power of the genome to society at large also creates risks as identifiable social and ethnic groups may face discrimination (or become beneficiaries of positive discrimination) on the basis of their presumed genetic endowments.
These problems are multiplied when genetic research is done carelessly. Historically, there have been many cases of false positives in which early genetic claims have evaporated under subsequent attempts at replication. These false positives can create tremendous mischief. A failure to