Among us Sweet Talkers, what’s the general feeling about whores? This one is kind-of the ultimate crass libertarian litmus test: two people are entering into a contract from which both benefit. I thought I’d toss it up here to see what the general contours are with regard to unbound liberty/libertinism vis-a-vis institutionalism in order to know how to appropriately manipulate my intended audience with my next post.
Is prostitution the archetypical euvoluntary exchange?
9 thoughts on “The World’s Oldest Euvoluntary Exchange”
We criminalize consensual sex due to a vestigial sexual morality, clan virtue designed to protect sexual assets. Regular sexual relationships make overtures to the sacred in order to signal detachment from what is an obvious profane transaction. Humor is notoriously good at subverting this pretension: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5lgwopmKMw
Prostitution is both the oldest exchange and first repugnance market. Legalize it for major welfare gains.
My view is that you can’t look at prostitution solely at the level of individual exchange. (Not just prostitution either, but many practices) You have to take into account how it affects society at large to have widespread prostitution (or other practices).
I don’t mean to be hand-waivey or make vague claims like “Oh, it corrupts public morals”, but rather take the position that society is for something concrete,and practices that make it harder to achieve social goals should be considered in that context.
Some people would argue that you can’t look at any one exchange in a vacuum: http://www.analyse-und-kritik.net/2008-1/AK_Keat_2008.pdf
Those people are correct. Even the purchase of a can of tuna (which seems as euvoluntary as it gets) can have moral and social implications.
I agree, but asserting that drives hardline (thick? thin? I don’t know what those mean) libertarians bonkers.
I’m happy to see moral implications in anything, a libertarian doesn’t want to legislate virtue. I’ve never heard a persuasive defense of drug or sexual prohibition.
To the extent I want the state intervene over virtue or vice, it’s to nudge people to be more competitive and trust worthy. This involves distinguishing market means (process) from welfare ends (outcome). The only coherent way to evaluate market outcomes from 30,000 feet is still basically utilitarian. But the market process is undoubtedly thick with virtue and vice. I cannot get behind a policy (banning prostitution) that is without a doubt welfare reducing. Yet I’d be open to designing a legal framework that extracts as much vice from the sector as possible. Prohibition does the opposite, by stacking the market process with violence, secrecy, and exploitation.
Loving the conversations here. Thanks for the sweet talk on economics and other subjects!
On this subject, two items come to mind right away:
1) Sex workers don’t necessarily hate their jobs or the people they connect with. Imagine you love sex and someone tells you that if you meet people in the right context, after you have sex they’ll leave a donation on the counter in the form of hundreds of dollars. Sometimes people might even give you iPads (along with chocolate, wine, flowers, cards, gift cards, etc.). You might even find that, for the first time in your life, you meet people who truly believe in you and want to help you in any way they can. It can be viewed as a form of patronage in the traditional sense of the word, especially for artists and students, and it can be a true donation-based model in which the absence of a donation is no cause for discontent. There’s a false notion that prostitutes don’t enjoy what they do. Certainly, there are people who don’t like sex for various reasons, and there are also people who will hop into bed with just about anyone. Still, there are others who go about things differently, perhaps requiring an initial “screening” (plus references) to ensure genuine chemistry exists before moving forward. If you could set your own hours and be given ridiculous amounts of money for doing something you love and making the world a happier place, why wouldn’t you, especially if you are struggling financially? The mystery, to me, is why there’s a donation when everyone’s having fun. Context, I suppose.
2) Safety concerns in their various forms are not to be ignored. Legislation is a huge issue here. Everyone knows that if something bad happens, the sex worker’s ability to report to the police is limited. This can and does result in abuse. An individual who isn’t hurting anyone and who is in a vulnerable position should not be made to feel afraid to get help when they need it. Many sex workers fear the police as much as they fear predators. It shouldn’t be that way. A sex worker is a human being and they should be able to legitimately cry “rape” without fear of exceptional legal risk and/or additional dehumanizing treatment.
A final note, as a feminist (and libertarian, incidentally): the word “whore” doesn’t bother me. Dead hooker jokes bother me. There’s nothing funny about that rare, but too-common, tragic end to what has usually been a very difficult life. It scares me on a regular basis. Whores are not worthless; in fact they’re often quite intelligent. They have more to offer than their bodies. However, even while stupidity exists among all of us mortals, every sentient being is worthy of the inherent dignity and respect imbued in us by the universe.
Thanks again for this great post, and the many others! I’m for you, and I’m on your side.
And that’s kind of entertaining. But I agree with Sam below that I still do think we should be wary about what we legislate, even taking these larger implications into account.