Market forces that might one day make human cloning a profitable engine of social change have been proposed in a speculative study by economists.
Gilles Saint-Paul, professor of economics at the Université des Sciences Sociales de Toulouse, France, has considered financial incentives that could ultimately apply the sort of technology that created Dolly the sheep to high achievers such as Bill Gates. This would be cloning purely for profit.
The discussion paper has been published by the Centre for Economic Policy Research in London. It is designed, Professor Saint-Paul admits, to provoke debate and may never come to pass.
However, if the unanswered assumptions he makes - such as a strong correlation between an individual's genes and his or her ability - are borne out, he believes today's popular revulsion at such a selfish prospect will not be enough to rule it out in future.
"There will be strong economic incentives to clone people of exceptional value in the labour market such as entrepreneurs, top scientists, physicians and lawyers," Professor Saint-Paul predicted.
"It looks unethical to us because we take our set of values as given - but values evolve, in particular as a product of economic forces."
A big portion of the clone's projected high income would have to be claimed by its creators to cover their investment. Professor Saint-Paul envisages several ways this could be done. One way is through a negative bequest, which is tantamount to slavery but may be allowed in a rogue state. In another scenario, a consortium of universities could clone brilliant individuals in the hope that some will earn great wealth and reward their creators.
In the long term, this could result in all humanity becoming genetically enhanced and hence cloning would become redundant. Alternatively, it could produce a cloned elite of high achievers.