Class Note for ECON 435 at UA
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Date Created: 02/06/15
ONE MORE SEX IS SAFER SEX It s true AIDS is nature s awful retribution for our tolerance of immoderate and socially irresponsible sexual behavior The epi demic is the price of our permissive attitudes toward monogamy chastity and other form39s of extreme sexual conservatism You ve read elsewhere about the sin of promiscuity Let me tell you about39the sin of self restraint Consider Martin a charming and generally prudent young man with a limited sexual history who has been gently irting with his coworker Joan As last week s office party approached both Joan and Martin silently and separately entertained the prospect that they just might be going home together Unfortu nately Fate through its agents at the Centers for Disease Con trol intervened The morning of the party Martin happened to notice one of those CDC sponsored subway ads touting the virtues of abstinence Chastened he decided to stay home In Martin s absence Joan hooked up with the equally charming 9 everyone with fewer th take additional partne three fourths of all B guy like Martin does the world a favor In fact he does the world two favo he hits the ba rs First he 39IV39Y39 If someone has to get infect er than Promiscuous Pe other twenty people before ed tonight I want it to be Martin te who would probably infect an nall39y dying I m always takes home an potentially m0 fected partner someone who 1 I hope he gets lu 39 Sadly none likely to get ve with me so yor you That wox blower so your stay seated at tl point is that whz ual and that s If multiple pan deadly Imagine mous while all 11 those circumstar men Before long ease on to the m wives But if each on one extramarit out and the virus might well die ou The parable 1 moral than the le even on a society the epidemic at That s where Profe More Sex Is Safer Sex H I m always glad to see guys like Martin in the bars When he takes home an uninfected partner he diverts that partner from a potentially more dangerous liaison When he takes home an in fected partner he diverts that partner from giving the virus to someone who might spread it far and wide Either way Isure hope he gets lucky tonight Sadly none of this makes for a good pickup line You re un likely to get very far with an approach like You should sleep with me so you can get infected die and take the virus with you That would be like saying You should sell your leaf blewer so your ne39ighbors lawns stay cleaner or You should stay seated at the ballpark so everyone else can see The whole point is that what s good for the group can be bad for the individ ual and that s why we get bad outcomes If multiple partnerships save lives then monogamy can be deadly Imagine a country where almost all women are monoga mous while all men demand two female partners per year Under those circumstances a few prostitutes end up servicing all the men Before long the prostitutes are infected they pass the dis ease on39 to the men the men bring it home to their monogamous wives But if each of those monogamous wives were willing to take on one extramarital partner the market for prostitution would die out and the virus unable to spread fast enough to maintain itself might well die out along with it I I The parable of the monogamous wives has a more profound moral than the legend of Martin and Joan because it shows that even on a societywide level increased promiscuity could retard the epidemic at least in principle But what about practice That s where Professor Kremer s research comes in With plausibly urwwmmmmmmm 39 7 That s one reason why you should root for Martin to have sex with Joan Here s another they ll probably enjoy it Enjoyment should never be lightly dismissed After all re ducing the rate of HIV infection is not the only goal worth pursu ing if it were we d outlaw sex 39 quest he can at least make s If you are a monomaniac lence of AIDS then you sho To an economist it s 0 rystal clear why people with limited sex ual pasts choose to s upply too little sex in the present their you are a monomaniac who wants to minimize the prevalence of AIDS and can control everyonefs behavior then as I said earlier you should outlaw sex en tirely But if you are a monomaniac who wants to minimize the prevalence of AIDS and can control only Martin s behavior while taking Maxwell s as given then you should encourage Martin to have more sex not less sen tive com bee wan insu you pose busii cost and 5 E to rai into39t goes 1 a safe Li too In son fat that th or ins wards most 0 Martin sleepin reward to Joan The of pollu ing the Factory hoose partners his work 39e same When your rel moment of rakishness dly scourge Martin to have sex joy it j quot ed After all re 33 calworth pursu 39 eally want is to given num More Sex Is Safer Sex I 13 services are underpriced If sexual conservatives could effec tively advertise their histories HIVconscious suitors would compete to lavish them with attention But that doesn t happen because conservatives are hard to identify Insufficiently re warded for relaxing their standards they relax their standards insufficiently When you take a new sex partner you bear some costs and you reap some benefits Those are your business You also im pose costs and bene ts on others and those are everyone else s business If you have a history of reckless promiscuity that s a cost Everyone s fishing for partners in a great communal stream and you ve polluted that stream just by entering it But if you ve always been cautious and selective you re likely to raise the average quality of the partner pool Just by jumping into the stream you make it purer Thanks to you everyone who goes shing for a partner tonight has a better chance of catching a safe one Like any other communal stream the stream of partners has too many polluters and too few volunteers to clean it up The rea son factory owners don t do enough to protect the environment is that they re insuf ciently rewarded for environmental protection or insuf ciently punished for neglecting it They reap some re wards even factory owners like clean water and clean air but most of the benefits go to total strangers Likewise the reason Martin might not do enough to ght the scourge of AIDS by sleeping with Joan is that while he certainly would reap some rewards such as sexual pleasure many of the bene ts would go to Joan s future partners and their future partners The ip side of the analogy is that Martin s chastity is a form of pollution phas ty pollutes the sexual environment by reduc ing the fraction of relatively safe partners in the dating pool Factory owners pollute too much because theyhave to breathe 14 I MORE SEX IS SAFER SEX only a fraction of their own pollution Martin stays home alone too much because he bears only a fraction of the consequences The pollution analogy is so powerful that it dictates the moral of virtually any story you could tell To conclude that Martin s coupling with Joan slows the epidemic you have to make some as sumptions about what Joan and Maxwell and all of their potential partners would be doing if Martin stayed home But to conclude that Martin s coupling with Joan makes the world a better place where better accounts for both the costs of disease and the benefits of sex you don t need any of those assumptions It is a quite general principle that when goods such as39Martin s sexual services are underpriced they are undersupplied Here then is what we know When sexual conservatives relax their standards bene ts spill over onto their neighbors That alone is enough to tell us that the world would be a better place if we could loosen these people up a little There is however more than one way for the world to become a better place Maybe the epidemic slows down Maybe people enjoy more sex Maybe the epidemic speeds up but people enjoy so much more sex that it s worth it Pure theory in the guise of the communalstream princi ple tells us that at least one of those good things must happen Professor Kremer s research suggests that both good things hap pen we get more sex and less illness I If all you want to do is slow down the epidemic Professor Kremer s research says that more sex is a good thing But if you I want to maximize the excess of bene ts over costs then even more sex is an even better thing So how d more sex I wish sadly thei derstands a copy th that s righ cause he 1 partners a Martir Martin nc a polluting bors butt So we Extrapolat I assume I ual tempe the price 5 welldesig In 0th more part one to hav is quite 039 Martin s s Maxwell s So we relatively very well i past and out stays home alone he consequences dictates the moral lude that Martin s 3 to make some as 11 of their potential e But to conclude 390er a better place of disease and the Lssumptions It is a as Martin s sexual lied standards bene ts s enough to tell us could loosen these the world to become iown Maybe people 39i 39 but people enjoy stream princi gs must happen things hap More Sex Is Safer Sex I 15 So how do we encourage Martin and others like him to have more sex I wish this book could nudge him in the right direction but sadly there s no reason why it should even if he reads and un derstands it completely Don t let that stop you from buying him a copy though Martin has already chosen the activity level that s right for him He s not likely to adjust that level just be cause he learns that a bunch of strangers namely Joan s future partners and their future partners would appreciate it Martin being human tends to concentrate on what s good for Martin not what s good for the society he lives in You can make a polluting factory owner understand that he s hurting his neigh bors but that s not the same as convincing him to stop So we need something more effective than mere education Extrapolating from their usual response to environmental issues I assume that liberals would attack the problem of excessive sex ual temperance through coercive legislation But as a devotee of the price system I d prefer to encourage good behavior through a welldesigned system of subsidies In other words we could pay people to have more sex with more partners But that s not ideal because we don t want every one to have more sex with more partners Maxwell for example is quite oversexed enough as it is The problem is to subsidize Martin s sexual awakening without simultaneously subsidizing Maxwell s genuine excess So we should pay people for having sex only if they are relatively inexperienced Unfortunately that doesn t work very well either not as long as Maxwell can lie about his past and keep a straight face long enough to collect his hand out 16 I MORE SEX IS SAFER SEX What we need is a reward that Martin values and Maxwell doesn t like say a library card I m guessing that Maxwell with his busy social life doesn t spend a lot of time at the library That s a de nite improvement but it s still imperfect When Martin arrives at the circulation desk looking appropriately smug and disheveled how can the librarian know whether he s really ful lled his coital obligations or is just putting on a good show Let s try again We need a reward that s of no value to Martin unless he actually has sex And as before it should be something the cautious Martin values more than the promiscuous Maxwell does I can think of only one reward that ts both criteria free or heavily subsidized condoms To reap the bene ts of a free condom Martin has to have sex And Martin probably values a free condom considerably more than Maxwell does Here s why Martin s almost surely not infected yet so a condom has a good chance to save his life Maxwell by contrast knows he might have the virus already so a condom at this point is less likely to make a difference Subsidized condoms could be just the ticket for luring Martin out of his shell without stirring Maxwell to a new frenzy of activity As it happens there is another reason to subsidize condoms Condom use itself is underrewarded When you use a condom you protect both yourself and your future partners and your fu ture partners future partners but you are rewarded with a lower chance of infection only for protecting yourself Your fu ture partners can t observe your pastvcondom use and therefore can t reward it with extravagant courtship That means you fail to capture all the benefits you re conferring As a result condoms are underused In otl son they that s goo dom that the futun behavior It s fri an upside risk from they enco downside use enoug ple who m The It not very e condom fr much imp Our gt below zero we should ble bountil Martins th journalist if at least s ity to nd 39 trouble in 39 governmen we ll get yo When I expn sponded Yes that kind of trot ER SEX that Martin values and Maxwell ard I m guessing that Maxwell spend a lot of time at the library nt but it s still imperfect When desk looking appropriately smug orarian know whether he s really 7 is just putting on a good show ward that s of no value to Martin as before it should be something 3 than the promiscuous Maxwell 1rd that ts both criteria free or lb reap the bene ts of a free nd Martin probably values a free Iaxwell does Here s why Martin s a condom has a good chance to tt knows he might have the virus cket for luring Martin out of wfrenzy of activity use a condom and your fu arded with a l 2 s More Sex Is Safer Sex I 17 In other words people use too few condoms for the same rea son they have too little sex When Martin has sex with Joan that s good for Joan s future partners When Martin uses a con dom that s good for Martin s future partners In neither case do the future partners get a fair opportunity to in uence Martin s behavior It s frequently argued that subsidized or free condoms have an upside and a downside The upside is that they reduce the risk from a given encounter and the alleged downside is that they encourage more encounters But that s not an upside and a downside it s two upsides Without the subsidies people don t use enough condoms and without the subsidies the sort of peo ple who most value condoms don t have enough sex partners The main drawback to subsidizing condoms is that they re not very expensive to begin with You can reduce the price of a condom from a dollar all the way down to zero without having much impact on people s sexual choices Our goal then should be to drive the price of condoms below zero by rewarding people who use them In other words we should pay a bounty for used condoms The best of all possi ble bounties would be one that is more valuable to abstemious Martins than to promiscuous Maxwells With that in mind the journalist Oliver Morton has made the marvelous suggestion that if at least some abstemiousness is due to shyness and the inabil ity to nd partners while the promiscuous have relatively little trouble in this regard then the answer might be to establish a governmentfunded dating service bring us a used condom and we ll get you a date When I expressed concern about the ease of fakery in this context Mr Morton re sponded Yes I wonied about the faking problem But anyone who s willing to go to that kind of trouble should probably be encouraged on the dating market anyway 18 I MORE SEX IS SAFER SEX The entire problem along with the entire case for subsi dies would vanish if our sexual pasts could somehow be made visible so that future partners could reward past prudence and thereby provide appropriate incentives Perhaps technology can ultimately make that solution feasible I imagine the pornography of the future Her skirt slid to the oor and his gaze came to rest on her thigh where the imbedded monitor read This site has been accessed 314 times Or as one of my Slate readers suggested we could have an online service to record negative HIV test results You d type in your prospective partner s name and get a response like Last negative test result 742006 Or to protect privacy you d type in not a name but an ID number provided by the partner Your screen could show both a test result and a photo to avoid fake IDs This strikes me as such a good idea that I can t gure out why no body s doing it yet Until then the best we can probably do is to make condoms inexpensive and get ride of those subway ads Addendum In 1996 Slate magazine published an abbreviated version of this chapter that generated hundreds of email responses Quite a few of those responses were both thoughtful and inter esting and helped me to improve the presentation you ve just read Others contained nothing but a line or two of invective To those I usually responded with a short note that read I m sorry but from the email you sent me I was not able to ascertain at ex actly which point you stopped following the argument If you can be more precise about where you got lost I ll do my best to make it clearer In a remarkable number of cases I got re sponses that were both thoughtful and apologetic and a few of those led to thing Other I point by m doctor tern letter that explained We a ual sprr ers Unfortu sult fro For an arti but cat One 0 was the p people ar good at simpli e The prim ple becor elds su to reason The read or to increaj is that f their i monog itire case for subsi d somehow be made 1 past prudence and haps technology can gine the pornography his gaze came to rest 7 read This site has d we could have an 39esults You d type in response like Last t privacy you d type by the partner Your oto to avoid fake IDs n t gure out why no can probably do is to of those subway ads abbreviated version of email responses thoughtful and inter Ks tation you ve just of invective To ead I m sorry scertain at ex ment If you my best to More Sex Is Safer Sex 19 those led to multiround correspondences that taught me some thing Other readers seemed bound and determined to miss the point by miles One brandishing his credentials as a medical doctor termed the column particularly unfortunate and in a letter that was published in a subsequent issue of Slate explained why H We are at a stage in the HIV epidemic in which heterosex ual spread is becoming increasingly signi cant Casual read ers may justify increasing their sexual risk taking behavior Unfortunately failure lasting in a shortened lifetime can re sult from a sexually successful onenight stand For an appropriate sequel the editor of Slate might solicit an article defending Russian roulette as statistically OK but cautioning that three loaded chambers is too risky One of the great discoveries of nineteenth century economics was the principle of comparative advantage according to which people are most successful when they stick to the things they re good at It s actually quite a bit subtler than that but this over simpli ed version suffices for the application I m about to make The principle of comparative advantage explains why some peo ple become medical doctors while other different people go into fields such as economics that require at least a minimal ability to reason logically There is nothing not one word in the chapter you ve just read or in the original Slate article that could provoke any reader to increased sexualrisktaking behavior Indeed the whole point is that the relatively chaste have too little sex because it is not in their interest to behave otherwise If you and your spouse are monogamous you likely won t get any sexually transmitted dis 20 I MORE SEX IS SAFER SEX Steven lt t r economic of The Ar 1 magazine1 3 fun but fa hind the 3 Sex Is So analysist quot decision if tive resrr eases If I point out that your continued monogamy is potentially deadly to your neighbors I don t expect you ll rush to risk your life for theirs Imagine this scenario I write an article explaining that when rms put filters on their smokestacks they perform a positive so cial service Unfortunately installing filters cuts into firms prof its so they install fewer lters than the rest of us prefer Therefore we might want to consider subsidizing such installations Along comes our medical doctor to argue that a lters re duce profits and are therefore a bad thing 1 my article is par ticularly unfortunate because casual readers who own factories may increase their antipollution efforts and c if we re going to argue for antipollution equipment we might as well solicit an ar ticle advising firms to convert all their assets into rowboats and then sink them Points a and b are both at wrong though if casual read ers were so foolish or so uncommonly altruisticas to increase their antipollution efforts on the basis of an article that provides no justification for doing so we could all be grateful for their foolishness and would consider the article the very opposite of particularly unfortunate Point 0 is a non sequitur perfectly analogous to the good doctor s comments about Russian roulette such a strategy confers no benefits on the neighbors and thus is completely offtopic I ve given this much space to my physician correspondent because his comments were echoed by several others who ex To be entirely explicit about the analogy Installing lters is like becoming more promiscuous it hurts you and helps your neighbors The fact that something hurts you does not make it a bad thing and the fact that it helps your neighbors does not make you want to go out and do it On the other hand if a few of my readers medical students perhaps are so easily confused that they go out and have more sex be cause of these arguments that s probably something the rest of us can be thankful for pressed gumth Maxwel even ur In other cause slt with a l part Here are make it t wou not cou clus surd char cons live eatir EX 3d monogamy is potentially ect you ll rush to risk your rticle explaining that when they perform a positive so filters cuts into firms prof rest of us prefer Therefore such installations to argue that a lters re iing my article is par l readers who own factories s and c if we re going to might as well solicit an ar r assets into rowboats and ng though if casual read valtruistic as to increase of an article that provides d all be grateful for their rticle the very opposite of is a non sequitur perfectly its about Russian roulette the neighbors and thus is 39 physiciancorrespondent 39 several others who ex t131 s is like becoming more t that something hurts our neighbors does not my readers medical have more sex be an be thankful for More Sex Is Safer Sex I 21 pressed concern that naive readers would misunderstand the ar gument so completely that they d all become highly promiscuous Maxwells and ultimately extinguish the human species A few even urged me to publish a retraction for precisely that reason In other words they argued that ideas should be suppressed be cause somebody might misunderstand them That s a position with a long and sordid history of which I d rather not become a part Here are some more questions that came up often enough to make it worth recording the answers Question I You say that a bit more promiscuity would lead to less AIDS If that were true would it not follow that an enormous increase in promiscuity could defeat the disease altogether And is that con clusion not manifestly absurd Answer The conclusion is indeed manifestly ab surd but it is not a legitimate conclusion Large changes and small changes don t always have similar consequences I believe that if I ate a bit less I would live a bit longer But I do not believe that if I stopped eating entirely I would live forever Question 2 In the words of one reader a spoonful of promiscuity will only slow the disease selfrestraint can stop it In view of that is it not irresponsible to tout the merits of promiscuity without also emphasiz V ing the merits of self restraint Answer This is like arguing that traf c lights can Stever econor of The magazi fun but hind thg Sex Is 2 analysis decisioi tive resi ways to 1 When better y if else doequot this is jl I and collei may actu I donations Lands em life is 3 We shoul cue from 1 people t generous Best of to the poli 39 We should felon who 39 vote in tw other one lt 22 MORE SEX IS SAFER SEX only reduce the number of auto accidents while ban ning cars can stop auto accidents therefore it would be irresponsible to tout the merits of traffic lights The problem with such reasoning is that banning cars like banning sex outside of longterm relation ships is neither realistic nor clearly desirable it s not going to happen and if it did happen we d proba bly be less happy despite the attendant decrease in mortality In any event everybody already knows that a per fectly monogamous society would not have an AIDS problem I prefer to write about things that are both true and surprising As a writer I dare to hope that there are readers who are actually interested in learn ing something Question 3 Okay there are bene ts to increased promiscuity But there can also be bene ts to increased chastity Isn t it inconsistent to subsidize one without subsidizing the other Answer No because there is a critical difference between the two kinds of bene t The bene ts of your promiscuity go to others the bene ts of your chastity go to you Thus you already have suf cient incentives on the prochastity side Question 4 Didn t you leave out some things that might be important Answer Absolutely For one thing a change in human behavior could trigger a burst of evolution on the part of the virus I doubt that consideration is im portant in this context though it s surely important in idents while ban herefore it would If traf c lights 1g is that banning mg term relation rly desirable it s tppen we d proba ndant decrease in knows that a per not have an AIDS tings that are both dare to hope that nterested in learn ne ts to increased ene ts to increased sidize one without critical difference I More Sex Is Safer Sex others but maybe I m wrong For another at least one reader contended that slight increases in promis cuity are impossible because they trigger cultural changes that lead to large increases in promiscuity I doubt that he s right but I can t prove he s wrong 23
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