Will We Ever Have a Blood War?

'Underworld: Blood War' poses a fascinating thought experiment.

Screen Gems

The newest iteration of the Kate Beckinsale thriller, Underworld: Blood Wars, involves a mythical quest for werewolf-vampire blood that leads to — you guessed it — blood wars in search of this powerful, rare hybrid blood.

In the real world, blood wars aren’t a far-off thought experiment to consider. While supply should have gone up after gay men were given the green light to donate blood, demand is unsteady, since more advanced surgical techniques are requiring less blood, but alternately creating shortages for emergency stockpiles of blood.

Could blood become a valuable natural resource that could instigate wars? Maybe, at least in war zones where blood is a hugely valuable resource. Last June, the New York Post reported that ISIS fighters in Iraq were so desperate for blood, they ransacked civilian homes and demanded people give their blood, horrifically leaving some to drain and die on the streets.

Blood wars, however, might not materialize Underworld-style, thanks to who we are. A 2015 study focused on this very question: How would humans react to a situation where blood became a prized commodity? Turns out that blood shortages aren’t solved through charging for blood, and that having the government simply ask for blood helped the most in alleviating shortages. Using a Chinese blood bank that counted 472,342 donations, economists found that asking a patient’s family or friends to voluntarily donate was effective for an individual seeking blood, but for mass blood shortages, a simple text message asking for help had everyday citizens lining up to help those in need. In the name of patriotism and good morals, people are willing to give up their blood.

The fact that body parts and fluids shouldn’t be charged in a resource war isn’t a surprising conclusion — the kidney donation market has long shown that poor people are hurt the most for selling their kidneys. But spinning giving away your spare kidney as a “donation” helps increase giving without the painful economic effects, according to a Nobel Prize-winning study that used the kidney market as a way to explain all kinds of other matching markets. Kidneys and blood share that characteristic: They’re valuable resources that are in short supply and fluctuating demand, but people are willing to donate when they see a need.

Technology has chipped in to help with the bloody business of figuring out how to deliver the much needed red stuff to those in need. Blood drones are making it possible to fly in blood quickly and efficiently after terrorist attacks and natural disasters. And in Rwanda, where roads notoriously cut off poorer populations, drones have been instrumental in keeping the AIDS epidemic at bay.

So the dystopia of blood wars — human or otherwise — are probably not in our future. Thanks to the innate goodness of humans, at least, Underworld’s blood wars won’t be a part of our world anytime soon.

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