East Side Stripper Full Employment Act Advances
I’m quite a bit late on this one, but a couple of weeks ago, the Missouri Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill that would essentially shut down all strip clubs in Missouri. The bill would ban strippers from, well, stripping, because it would would require them to be at least partially clothed, and even when partially clothed, they must stay at least six feet away from customers. Oh, and they wouldn’t be able to serve liquor, either. I doubt many strip club patrons are going to want to go to a club where they can’t drink, and where the girls all have to walk around with tape measures to ensure they don’t get too close, so I suspect many of these businesses would likely close.
The most obvious consequence of these closings would be that people formerly employed in that segment of the adult business in Missouri would either seek new lines of work or move to other states that are more accommodating of their current professions. The supply of this good may diminish or even disappear, but the demand for it won’t go anywhere. This situation could easily lead to results that should give pause to the social conservatives who support this bill.
The increased hassle of the legislation might dissuade some people from consuming such lascivious services, but others will seek out substitutes. It would likely lead to an increase in the consumption of pornography and prostitution (and some unemployed strippers would probably enter the world of prostitution, as well). But that still may not be the worst of it.
A 2006 study by Clemson University economist Todd Kendall argued that greater access to Internet pornography helped drive down the incidence of rape during the prior two decades. In a Slate article, fellow economist Steven Landsburg summarized Kendall’s findings:
First, porn. What happens when more people view more of it? The rise of the Internet offers a gigantic natural experiment. Better yet, because Internet usage caught on at different times in different states, it offers 50 natural experiments.
The bottom line on these experiments is, “More Net access, less rape.” A 10 percent increase in Net access yields about a 7.3 percent decrease in reported rapes. States that adopted the Internet quickly saw the biggest declines. And, according to Clemson professor Todd Kendall, the effects remain even after you control for all of the obvious confounding variables, such as alcohol consumption, police presence, poverty and unemployment rates, population density, and so forth.
OK, so we can at least tentatively conclude that Net access reduces rape. But that’s a far cry from proving that porn access reduces rape. Maybe rape is down because the rapists are all indoors reading Slate or vandalizing Wikipedia. But professor Kendall points out that there is no similar effect of Internet access on homicide. It’s hard to see how Wikipedia can deter rape without deterring other violent crimes at the same time. On the other hand, it’s easy to imagine how porn might serve as a substitute for rape.
If not Wikipedia, then what? Maybe rape is down because former rapists have found their true loves on Match.com. But professor Kendall points out that the effects are strongest among 15-year-old to 19-year-old perpetrators—the group least likely to use such dating services.
Moreover, professor Kendall argues that those teenagers are precisely the group that (presumably) relies most heavily on the Internet for access to porn. When you’re living with your parents, it’s a lot easier to close your browser in a hurry than to hide a stash of magazines. So, the auxiliary evidence is all consistent with the hypothesis that Net access reduces rape because Net access makes it easy to find porn.
There are legitimate reasons to question such a strong conclusion on Kendall’s part, some of which were pointed out by Steven Levitt of Freakonomics fame, but it cannot be easily dismissed. Furthermore, it would be inappropriate to draw direct parallels between Kendall’s study and the strip club situation in Missouri, because they are not perfectly analogous. Most obviously, 15-year-old to 19-year-old boys are not likely to be found in strip clubs to begin with. Still, the general idea holds up. People seeking sexual gratification may turn to much worse alternatives in the absence of easy access to common consensual options like pornography and strip clubs.
Let me be very clear: I am not predicting that this law would result in a measureable uptick in rapes in Missouri. In fact, absent a good control group, it would be hard to establish statistical correlation, let alone causation. What we do have is some very suggestive evidence that the law of unintended consequences may apply to this law in a fierce way, and it is something that the law’s supporters should think carefully about.