29 March 2010

economy of sex

Iceland bans stripping. This is not met with the cries and pleas of a feminist society in America as a tiding of great things.

Actually, much like prostitution, there's a distinct hierarchy. There are some strippers/dancers/whatever who make a ton of money and a much larger number that make an adequate amount. If you could call this "pays pretty well", it probably does pay roughly equal to low end street walker prostitution on average for minimal actual working time. Say 18-20 bucks an hour, depending on local prices and wages, working less than part time hours. Prostitutes tend to work less than strippers, usually around 10 hours per week and probably will make more money per hour as the commodity they sell is valued at higher prices, actual sex as opposed to the ogling of naked and semi-naked women, so it probably comes out about the same amount in a week's income for a low-skilled job. Wage wise that's probably a healthy amount for low-skilled workers to make. Much like prostitution, I would say the objections that should be raised would be to ensure some level of health and safety for the workforce and that the barriers to entry are largely those of the persistent moralizing of the outside world rather than official laws forbidding the practice of selling sex and sexuality. Plus there will always be a relatively low population of people who find this an appealing enough job, either because of income or because of the work itself to limit the prospective expansion of it upon society as a whole. Most women look upon this sort of work in the same way I look at office work, as degrading or dehumanizing.

Primarily this would be the appropriate legal approaches as opposed to banning such work outright as is typically done instead (Iceland also banned prostitution last year, which as is pointed out is probably more harmful to women than having legal prostitution as an option both in economic and moral terms. It's a little harder to have organised underground strip clubs. I suppose they could be modeled on underground sex clubs, but then they're starting to stray off into prostitution or private swinger clubs rather than mere exotic dance):

1) Ensure that any people entering such professions are voluntarily entering. This is less true in an illegal market where prostitution or strip clubs are banned than in a legal market. The practice of human trafficking still exists in either environment and should be penalised severely, but it is only exacerbated in an underground market where the workforce itself is subject to legal obstructions rather than protected by the legal system. The primary judgment of a normal market of whether people voluntarily enter is on how they assess their economic options and price their work (or by what others are willing to pay and how much they are willing to accept). If people are unwilling at any price, or any "reasonable" price, to sell or purchase sex and sexuality, then they will not participate in this economy (this is my own personal position. I always found the concept of strip clubs to be an absurd illusion and prostitution to be a rather lazy means of procuring sex rather than other forms of coercion which require more dedication and interest in the willing partner. Even if they often boil down to the same sorts of human interactions between parties and some commodification of sex in the course of the relationship. Besides, offering money to someone in order to convince them to sleep with me seems a bit outside of my character anyway. One assumes that such an offer would reflect rather poorly of my opinion of others. And I hold some low opinions of human beings which reflect rather negatively on me as it is).
2) Provide some manner of regulation that ensures relative health and safety of prostitutes, primarily centered on sexual disease transmission. This could come from offering some sort of certification license to demonstrate a safe and accountable environment for the sale and purchase of sex from such businesses as do so. The actual empowerment and relative protection of women in such markets, who can become effectively the sole proprietors of a business in selling their time and sexuality to others, is that they can refuse transactions from potential consumers. So for example if they don't want to have sex without condoms, for risk of disease or pregnancy, then they can advertise as such and turn away offers which would bypass these restrictions. Or, alternatively, they could require testing of their clientele and offer some sort of price discrimination effect against their competitors who do require condom usage. In general, most women in these environments will err toward condom use given the chance to price their work and risks accordingly.
3) Protect the workers themselves from violence and abuse at the hands of unruly consumers. Strip clubs do this with bouncers and security to expel violations of club policies, which are usually in place to protect the strippers while still satisfying consumers (and thus the business owner still profits). Prostitution generally has few boundaries for protection simply because when one is a prostitute it is assumed that they cannot be raped or violated by others, or that they work in an unruly neighbourhoods already where domestic violence is tolerated or under-reported, things like this. This is not true of a self-regulated higher end prostitution, where abuse, fraud, etc, is punished by lack of access to competition. The women will pool resources to expel undesirable clients by giving them unfavorable reviews, among other things. Prostitutes themselves have incentives not to over report or exaggerate their claims such that they would lose business, but they are protected by the probability that a true jerk or batterer will be excluded and their reputation will remain safe from being impugned. The effectiveness of high end prostitution's self-regulatory status is far from uniform, but this would be improved by an open and transparent market made legal where the purveyors of sex could benefit from legal protections as well as market penalties against transgressions of their mutual agreements. Along with non-mutual agreements like rape or molestation which was not consented to that could now be more adequately addressed without fear of self-incrimination.

I imagine that this sort of restriction or legal interference could plausibly include policies over the consumption of alcohol. But in reality, I would think such a restriction is more necessary for public safety (driving home drunk is rather unwise and potentially unsafe) rather than the safety of patrons and purveyors of sexuality. I see little reason to effectively separate the consumption of alcohol from the consumption of sex (after all, it is deemed appropriate in other contexts to use alcohol and sex in combination, for reasons that seem wholly illogical to me).

Update: Some counter balance. Some anyway. Mostly reflects the NIMBY method of opposition, which since Iceland is a small country with a population the size of a mid-sized city in the US, is a potent force. And the ethnic or nationalistic preferences that declare foreign workers to be "bad" or "unhappy" or "doing a job nobody else wants" as though these arguments are a reflection accurate to the private character of immigrants or foreign labour or upon the jobs they are filling. As I stated earlier, working in an office doing the trivial tasks of heavy lifting for someone else is just as bad for me personally as I imagine most people in sex related professions find their occupations. My impression is that most people are "unhappy" with their jobs were they to remove any financial inducements like their paychecks or benefits and perks.

This does probably speak less to the feminist character of such legislation (and of Iceland in particular) and more to the arrogant disdain that most societies have against sex workers and most sex related businesses that they may be acceptable to engage in, just not where we live.
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