Oct 192009

Stephen D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner’s new book, SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance “challenges the way we think” by asking such pithy and sure to sell questions as, “How is a street prostitute like a department-store Santa?” Really. Econ 101 as if it was taught by ill-behaved 13 year old boys. What’s not to like about that? In a column in the Times Online (UK), the authors explain,

there is still a considerable economic price to pay for being a woman. The economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz found that women who went to Harvard earned less than half as much as the average Harvard man. Even when the analysis included only full-time employees and was controlled for other variables, Goldin and Katz found that the Harvard women still earned about 30% less.There is one labour market women have always dominated: prostitution. Its business model is built upon a simple premise. Since time immemorial and all over the world, men have wanted more sex than they could get for free. So what inevitably emerges is a supply of women who, for the right price, are willing to satisfy this demand. But what is the right price?

The right price for the commodification of women’s bodies?  Jennifer Drew points to the harms of this most unhealthy economic construct:

Stephen Levitt and Stephen Dunbar’s  latest work, promotes the claim prostitution is just economics. Or what is commonly termed demand and supply. Men demand innumerable women and girls be made available in order that they can sexually masturbate into the female body and then term it ‘sex.’

This is yet another article written from the male perspective, which views women and girls as men’s sexualized commodities and prostitution as simply an economic transaction between two individuals of equal societal power. Women and girls have ‘what men want’ and so it makes sense for ‘women and girls’ to profit from men’s sexual demands. Prostitution according
to Levitt and Dunbar is profitable business for women and girls because it has existed for centuries and the Johns are all ‘wonderful gentlemen’ who simply need regular sexual access to women and girls with no strings and no accountability. Odd how Levitt and Dunbar only interviewed women who work as ‘escorts’ and appear to be happy dealing with innumerable male strangers masturbating into their bodies, whilst telling the Johns their sexual prowess is amazing!! Ah prostitution is an excellent way
for women and girls to earn vast sums quickly with no negative impact on their physical and mental health. Missing from this narrative are the women and girls who are forced to seek out Johns on the streets and women who are enslaved by male pimps because they don’t exist in Levitt’s and Dunbar’s male-centered and male-fantasy world. Granted a minority of prostituted women are able to exert control and power over the Johns but they are a minority. Neither does it alter the fact reducing all women to men’s dehumanized sexualized commodities enforces and ‘naturalizes’ common perceptions women are ‘just sex’ whereas men are autonomous human beings who must never be held accountable for driving the demand in unlimited sexual access to women and girls. ‘Satyriasis’ meaning male sexual insatiability is never used to describe male sexual demand for women and girls.

Instead we are supposed to accept that prostitution is an economic
transaction totally divorced from how women and girls are devalued and dehumanized within our patriarchal society, because only the male perspective is ‘reality’ and women are men’s adjuncts not human being in their own right. Women’s bodies are never harmed by having to endure innumerable men forcing their penises into every part of a woman’s body and inflicting sexual torture on the woman is never violence, just enactment of men’s sexual rights over women. Transmission of HIV/Aids, STD’s from Johns to prostituted women is not an issue as long as the John wears a condom! Women’s bodies are naturally resistant to sexual
violence because hey – this what all women are – just men’s dehumanized sexualized commodities.

The male perspective claims even female monkeys are ‘prostitutes’ and this supposedly proves all females, whether they are mammals or female human beings are ‘just sex’ according to Levitt’s and Dunbar’s male-centered ‘fantasy world.’ Male power, male domination, male demand which drives prostitution is non-existent because women are apparently the ones controlling and profiting from men’s supposedly innate sex drives.

As Drew points out women are far more likely to be forced into prostitution than to choose it as a profession and most prostitutes  do not run their own business as the object of Levitt and Dubner’s economic fantasy does and their juvenile notion of successful economics is predicated on exploitive misogyny that treats women as property rather than valuing the work that they do.

Sickeningly, there is no doubt SuperFreakonomics will get far more attention than Riane Eisler’s phenomenal new project based on her book, “The Real Wealth of Nations” called The Real Wealth of America Public Policy Project which,

is designed to advance the real wealth of our nation: the health, well-being, and full development of our nation’s women,  men, and children. A major aim of the project is to change the present economic  perspective to one that not only recognizes the enormous “back-end” financial costs of  failing to invest in people, but also recognizes the direct economic benefits of investing in
human capacity building.

As Eisler states: “Rather than trying to just patch up a system that is not sustainable, let’s use our economic crisis to move to an economic system that really meets human needs. As Einstein said, we can’t solve problems with the same thinking that created them. In our time of rapidly changing technological and social conditions, we must go deeper, to matters that conventional economic analyses and theories have ignored. We need a caring economics that no longer devalues the most important work: the work of caring for people, starting in early childhood, and the work of caring for our Mother Earth.”

The indicators for the currently used Gross National Product were developed and adopted  during the depths of the Great Depression. They were only meant by their authors to be a beginning for measurements, not the be all and end all.

We urgently need new economic indicators. The RWA public policy project is a strategic step toward achieving this goal.

The governing values for measuring and promoting the Real Wealth of Nations are:

  • Recognizing that the contributions of people are the real wealth of a nation– and hence the need to invest in human capacity development, starting in early childhood.
  • Recognizing that, especially for the post-industrial knowledge-information economy, our most important capital is high quality human capital.
  • Recognizing the need to give greater visibility and value to the work of caregiving in both the market and non?market economies.
  • Recognizing the value of investing in our human infrastructure for our world’s families, communities, equality, democracy, and economic success.

This is the kind of transformative, challenging economic vision that we need to embrace, not the juvenile, exploitive and utterly uninformed drivel of SuperFreakanomics.

 October 19, 2009  Posted by on October 19, 2009

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