Bad Times Mean More Call Girls: Sex Work And The Recession

What will happen to "the supply of high end call girls" during the recession? The Economist's Free Exchange blog has an answer, if you can wade through the annoying jokes.

The anonymous blogger says that while the quantity and "quality" of call girls has not changed, there seems to be higher price elasticity of demand — i.e. the more a call girl charges, the fewer clients she can expect. The post continues:

On the Eros guide (warning contains explicit content), the central clearing house of escort services in the New York area (of course, I only visited the Eros cite to research my forthcoming article on the subject), some of the "VIP" providers are offering "Wall Street adjusted courtesy rates". A non trivial number of the women also claim to be formerly employed in the "financial services industry".

Behind the blogger's I'm-so-naughty gags (he [or, to be fair, she] also writes that "there may be some guilt-ridden bankers in New York looking to get spanked") is the interesting observation that more people may enter sex work during a recession. These are usually people who were "already on the fringe of the industry" — the blogger cites a one-time kept man who became a rent boy when the economic crisis drove his benefactor out of town.

But talking about prostitutes like they're sacks of sugar — with supply, demand, and price elasticity — ignores larger questions about the social position of sex work. Swedish academic Susanne Dodillet had such questions when doing her comparison of Swedish and German prostitution laws. Germany recently legalized brothels and made prostitutes eligible for all the benefits of other skilled workers. Sweden, meanwhile, passed a 1999 describing prostitution "as an unacceptable expression of society's genderised power structures." Dodillet says Swedes are more trusting of their government to provide moral guidance, while Germans remember the Third Reich. She also writes,

While Swedish prostitution policies are based on a normative view of how equality should manifest itself for women and men, the German left emphasises that there is a large range of sexual identities and modes of expression. According to this way of thinking, selecting some as more equal and thereby superior to others entails discriminating against deviants.

Will a recession make us more accepting of prostitution as more people enter the industry? Will greater trust in our government after the departure of Bush II actually pave the way for stricter prostitution laws? Or are we just going to keep treating sex work with a combination of tacit acceptance and occasional persecution? Unfortunately, history suggests the latter.

Sex workers in the recession [Economist]
Is Sex Work? [EurekAlert]