Bring Us Your Repugnant Ideas

We just did a Marketplace radio piece on “The Year in Repugnant Ideas,” and tomorrow we’ll release a podcast on a similar theme. We plan to revisit this theme in future radio shows and on the blog — as long as we don’t run out of repugnant ideas to talk about.

That’s where you come in. Please use the comments section below to tell us about ideas that you (or others) may find repugnant even though they might have a lot of value. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about:

In the Marketplace piece, we discuss the use of human wastewater for crop irrigation; the so-called “death panels”; and new solutions to the shortage in human organs for transplantation.

The podcast mainly focuses on the organ question, but also delves into repugnances past and present. For instance, take a look at this graphic from SuperFreakonomics Illustrated:

Thanks in advance for your great ideas.

Single payer.

Still repugnant - Obama's health care compromises.

Srini Kumar

Here's an ironic one, considering our amazing new iPhone app, TinyVox ?The Infinite Tape Deck:

People are increasingly obsessed with recording everything. Everything. There will be no escape from scrutiny as everything is "captured as content" because our mobile devices are ubiquitous and increasingly absorbent of our experiences as they connect up to our virtual identities in the cloud. I find this repugnant, and economically it would seem to be quite valuable. Also: Attention Is A Currency. Gross, right?


Genetically engineering or selecting for smart/beautiful/otherwise-capable children. It might make for a better world; I find it repugnant.


Once accepted, now repugnant:

Dog fighting/cock fighting.

Throwing paper away instead of recycling it.

Driving an SUV.

Having a strong opinion (not bipartisan).


Sharing: once encouraged. Now, sharing is SO repugnant, it's called socialism. The once moral value is now a political disease. And for shame.


Repugnant ideas on taxes from each side of the political spectrum.

1st: Make income taxes regressive, so you pay 25% (made up number) on you first $50k, then 20% on the next $50k, or whatever, so it is a downward sliding scale. People are incentivized to earn more because their marginal tax rate drops as they do so.

2nd: Tax people on their historical peak earnings. Increasing taxes disincentivizes people to earn more, only if by earning less do they decrease their marginal tax rate. Base people's taxes on their historical peak earnings so they have no incentive to earn less.

Michael G

Growing insects for food. (Not my idea -- there was a TED talk on it.)

Charles in Cincinnati

Once accepted, now repugnant: tobacco use (remember spittoons and ashtrays in banks?); kids riding untethered in cars (even the front seats, oh my!); mid-teen brides; child labor; boarding schools

Once repugnant, now accepted: porn; tattoos & piercings; an unmarried woman; atheism; Japanese goods; homsexuality; a woman's publicly exposed midriff or thigh; divorce

Daniel MacLeay

I can't help thinking that smoking should be encouraged. Although this may lead to higher healthcare costs in some instances, those costs are probably off-set by 1) increase in tax revenue for the state, 2) support for farmers and 3) shortened life expectancies and therefore saving in Social Security and Medicare payments.

This is truly repugnant, but I think the math may bear it out. This is not an original idea; I seem to remember some talk about it years ago.


This is actually explored on the latest blog post on Amoebas and Social Loafing. The question really is, what causes the accepted/repugnant shift? Technological innovation, economic trends, cultural transitions? Check out Amoebas and Social Loafing for an in depth analysis.


High school football is ingrained in American culture, yet it causes tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of serious injuries each year such as concussions. In a society that is so over-protective of our citizens and especially our young, it is only because of the immense popularity of football that we haven't banned football or taken real steps to protect the brains of our young.


Only taxpaying citizens vote for candidates in elections.

Only property owners vote for issues that raise or lower property taxes.

Is that repugnant enough?

Brian S

I would not say that "Mercenary Soldiers" is an idea now considered repugnant. PED's in sports is questionable as well, since technically a lot of things that are accepted enhance performance in one way or another. Also, the athletes - the actual people partaking in the sports - generally don't have a problem with PED's at the highest level of competition, at least in my limited experience.

Possible future discussion topics:
Insects as a source of food
Genetic alteration to enhance "good" qualities or eliminate "bad" ones.

André Sathler Guimarães

Children education by the State. Take the children away from the parents and give it to professionals to raise. (It is not quite mine, it is at Fabulous New World)


Flushing less often to conserve water.


For something considered repugnant we sure do use a lot of Mercenary soldier these days

Eric M. Jones

I'm sorry someone has to say "Soylent Green." Jus' sayin'.

I find repugnant, although they might be of value (hah!):

War, especially for that "honor" thingy.
Religion. Buddhism, and other Eastern philosophies are not religions. The rest are bogus.
RoyaltyQueen on the public dole. What's that about?
Military officers vs troopsAren't all people equal?
Patriotism US "exceptionalism" has to be earned.
GuantanamoShame on us...


Instead of organ donation should the brain dead be used to test drugs? If after a car accident by organs were donated they might save a dozen peoples lives at most. If however you used by dead but still breathing body to test drugs on I could save thousands.

Drug testing is slow and expensive. You have to check the drug is not toxic and that it works. For ethical reasons it is very difficult to test on living people. But if your about to unplug someone having declared them dead you have pretty much admitted they are not a living person anymore.

So instead of taking my organs and testing a new HIV vaccine on rats, rabbits and then enough people to look for statistical effects over time why not give the vaccine to the brain dead person. Wait a while then try give them HIV? It would make drug creation cheaper, quicker and save a lot more lives than organ donation.


Here's one: Eating raw meat-- in particular, eating rotten raw meat. And, in a less extreme example, fermented foods in general can seem somewhat repugnant in concept.

The recent Nov. 22 New Yorker issue printed an article called "Nature's Spoils: The delights of fermented food." In it, the author describes a (deranged? repugnant?) man who eats "high meat." This is defined as "the flesh of any animal that has been allowed to decompose," and the author goes on to describe the experience. "Inside lay a piece of organic beef, badly spoiled. It was afloat in an ochre-colored puddle of its own decay, the muscle and slime indistinguishable, like a slug."

Rotten meat is on the extreme side, and most people probably don't consider it useful, but considerably more people eat fresh raw meat (sashimi, etc.) and many more eat fermented foods (kim chi, sour krout, beer, etc.) The question is where do you fall on the scale of which of these seem repugnant to you? I'm okay with fermented sour krout and the like, but draw the line at raw meat and would not touch "high meat" with a 29 foot pole.



Michael Radosevich

We have to end population growth. The planet simply cannot sustain the population we have, let alone any increase.

Therefore, one birth per man and woman. After giving birth, the woman must have her tubes tied and the father of the child must have a vasectomy. No exceptions allowed.