Economist Charles Hill argues attempting to reduce the demand for sex services will backfire, increasing its supply and harming sex workers, free agents and coerced alike.
Economics isn’t about money. It’s about understanding how people make decisions about what they do. This is as true in the movie Trading Places, an apparently very accurate depiction of commodity trading, as it is in sex work, an industry that has at various times and in various cultures been treated as a sin to be stamped out—or a service.
Charles Hill, a business school professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, penned a recent blog entry looking at a change in local police tactics intended to reduce the demand for the service of sex workers. The stated change is to reduce demand for sex work by 20 percent by targeting johns who hire such services. But Dr. Hill starts from the increasingly validated position that most sex workers have personal agency, and haven’t been coerced to pursue their trade.
Dr. Hill suggests that if sex workers are making a choice, then reducing demand side will paradoxically increase supply. He notes, if that supposition is true, “to them selling sex is a better economic option than their next best alternative, which might be waiting tables in a restaurant, working in a telephone call center, or subsisting on welfare.”
Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of economics could have predicted this. Unfortunately these laws were passed by people without a rudimentary understanding of anything other than the usefulness of a lurid campaign against sin. The results, going all the way back to Prohibition, are nothing if not predictable. The more things you outlaw the more attractive the black market in those things becomes as a source of profit. Eventually, we learned about the basic idiocy of Prohibition, but most people like a drink and a much smaller number work in or patronize the sex industry, so it’s an easier political… Read more »