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Econ 101: The Sex and Love Edition
This blog is for everyone who sat through a first-year economic class wondering why their professor couldn’t come up with better examples than guns and butter and for teachers of economics who would like their students to periodically look up from their phones. Here I explain basic economic terms using examples that mothers would never approve.
Demand Curve: A buyer of sexual services will respond to an increase in the market price of sex by reducing the frequency with which he pays for sex on the market. By how much, will depend on his ability to find these services elsewhere. So, for example, a buyer with a preference for sex so kinky that other women are unwilling to participate (for free) will reduce his demand in response to a price increase by less than a buyer who is looking for sex other women might be willing to participate in without being paid. (I like to show my students the prostitute scene from Rat Race as an example).
Supply Curve: A seller of sexual services will respond to an increase in the market prices of sex by increasing the frequency with which he or she sells sex on the market. Overall market supply might increase because existing sellers are turning more tricks, or because other potential sex workers entered the market when the price paid increased above their reservation wage. Sex workers may also migrate to places where prices are high, increasing the local supply of market sex. So, for example, if a big sporting event brings more buyers to a city (an increase in demand that puts upward pressure on the price of market sex) then sex workers will move to that area, increasing the supply in response to the increase in price.
Opportunity Cost: If women who become sex workers forfeit their ability to marry, then part of the ‘opportunity cost’ of becoming a sex worker is forgone income from marriage. Other opportunity costs to sex work include the risk of disease, arrest and violence. It is these opportunity costs that increase the price charged by sex workers above the wage they would receive from alternative employment, which for many women would be unskilled labor. This brings us to another economic concept: compensating wage differential. This is the additional wage workers require to motivate them to accept a job that is otherwise unpleasant or dangerous.
Comparative Advantage: This is the ability of one individual, or country, to produce a good or service more efficiently (i.e. at a lower cost) than another. Less developed countries have a comparative advantage in providing services to sex tourists if individuals in those countries have limited alternative forms of employment. So while men in the US, for example, can earn more working in the non-sex labor market, men in the Caribbean have limited employment alternatives and are willing to work in the “sex holiday” market at a lower price. This comparative advantage in sex services encourages the development of that sector in developing nations and increases trade between countries.
Efficiency wages: Sometimes the wage workers are paid by their employer is not determined by just supply or demand. There is some evidence that pimps pay sex workers efficiency wages, i.e., they are paid more than sex workers without pimps. This is either because they cannot directly supervise their activities, but they want to encourage them to be productive, or because they are willing to pay a premium to keep the best sex workers. (Long time Dollars and Sex readers will remember the pimp that I interviewed who definitely did not pay efficiency wages, or any wages at all for that matter)
Monopoly: Marriage is the most common form of a monopoly, which is the situation when a market has only one seller of a good or service. Economists in general find that monopolies are inefficient in that they both reduce the supply of a good or service below its desired level and increase the price. Some people who are married might agree with that assessment.
Monopsony: Polygamy is an example of monopsony, which is the situation when a market only has one buyer and multiple sellers. Institutionalized polygamy (that is dictated by law) is an unnatural monopsony that excludes would-be sellers from entering the market and leaving them, in this particular example, angry and frustrated.
Negative Externalities: Sometimes markets impose costs on others who are not directly participating in the market. If an active sex trade increases the transmission of STIs among those actively participating in the market and those who are not participating (for example, to wives and girlfriends) then an argument can be made for government intervention to reduce these negative externalities. One way to do this is increase the price of sex services (for example, by imposing a tax) which should reduce the number of transactions. Of course this would only work if buyers reduced their demand in response to the tax increase in prices. So a tax in a market where the buyers all want kinky sex, as described above, would reduce the negative externalities by less than one in a market in which buyers satisfy their needs with non-market sex. (This is how I teach my students Price Elasticity of Demand)
Technological Change: Innovators only invest in new technologies if they believe that the cost of invention is exceeded by the potential financial return on that investment. The opportunity for financial return is directly related to the size of the market so that where there are large markets there is greater investment in new technologies and rapid technological change. The pornography industry is one example of where the size of the market has spurred rapid technological change which has often spilled over into other sectors. This also an example of positive externalities.
I hope that this post is a reminder that not only can economics tell us something about sex and love, but that sex and love is a fun way to learn about economics which is why I started writing this blog (a year ago this week!) in the first place.
I hope you enjoy this illustration which is straight out of my lecture notes.
So much for rest in peace.
- Australian scientists found that bodies kept moving for 17 months after being pronounced dead.
- Researchers used photography capture technology in 30-minute intervals every day to capture the movement.
- This study could help better identify time of death.
We're learning more new things about death everyday. Much has been said and theorized about the great divide between life and the Great Beyond. While everyone and every culture has their own philosophies and unique ideas on the subject, we're beginning to learn a lot of new scientific facts about the deceased corporeal form.
An Australian scientist has found that human bodies move for more than a year after being pronounced dead. These findings could have implications for fields as diverse as pathology to criminology.
Dead bodies keep moving
Researcher Alyson Wilson studied and photographed the movements of corpses over a 17 month timeframe. She recently told Agence France Presse about the shocking details of her discovery.
Reportedly, she and her team focused a camera for 17 months at the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER), taking images of a corpse every 30 minutes during the day. For the entire 17 month duration, the corpse continually moved.
"What we found was that the arms were significantly moving, so that arms that started off down beside the body ended up out to the side of the body," Wilson said.
The researchers mostly expected some kind of movement during the very early stages of decomposition, but Wilson further explained that their continual movement completely surprised the team:
"We think the movements relate to the process of decomposition, as the body mummifies and the ligaments dry out."
During one of the studies, arms that had been next to the body eventually ended up akimbo on their side.
The team's subject was one of the bodies stored at the "body farm," which sits on the outskirts of Sydney. (Wilson took a flight every month to check in on the cadaver.)Her findings were recently published in the journal, Forensic Science International: Synergy.
Implications of the study
The researchers believe that understanding these after death movements and decomposition rate could help better estimate the time of death. Police for example could benefit from this as they'd be able to give a timeframe to missing persons and link that up with an unidentified corpse. According to the team:
"Understanding decomposition rates for a human donor in the Australian environment is important for police, forensic anthropologists, and pathologists for the estimation of PMI to assist with the identification of unknown victims, as well as the investigation of criminal activity."
While scientists haven't found any evidence of necromancy. . . the discovery remains a curious new understanding about what happens with the body after we die.
Metal-like materials have been discovered in a very strange place.
- Bristle worms are odd-looking, spiky, segmented worms with super-strong jaws.
- Researchers have discovered that the jaws contain metal.
- It appears that biological processes could one day be used to manufacture metals.
The bristle worm, also known as polychaetes, has been around for an estimated 500 million years. Scientists believe that the super-resilient species has survived five mass extinctions, and there are some 10,000 species of them.
Be glad if you haven't encountered a bristle worm. Getting stung by one is an extremely itchy affair, as people who own saltwater aquariums can tell you after they've accidentally touched a bristle worm that hitchhiked into a tank aboard a live rock.
Bristle worms are typically one to six inches long when found in a tank, but capable of growing up to 24 inches long. All polychaetes have a segmented body, with each segment possessing a pair of legs, or parapodia, with tiny bristles. ("Polychaeate" is Greek for "much hair.") The parapodia and its bristles can shoot outward to snag prey, which is then transferred to a bristle worm's eversible mouth.
The jaws of one bristle worm — Platynereis dumerilii — are super-tough, virtually unbreakable. It turns out, according to a new study from researchers at the Technical University of Vienna, this strength is due to metal atoms.
Metals, not minerals
Fireworm, a type of bristle wormCredit: prilfish / Flickr
This is pretty unusual. The study's senior author Christian Hellmich explains: "The materials that vertebrates are made of are well researched. Bones, for example, are very hierarchically structured: There are organic and mineral parts, tiny structures are combined to form larger structures, which in turn form even larger structures."
The bristle worm jaw, by contrast, replaces the minerals from which other creatures' bones are built with atoms of magnesium and zinc arranged in a super-strong structure. It's this structure that is key. "On its own," he says, "the fact that there are metal atoms in the bristle worm jaw does not explain its excellent material properties."
Just deformable enough
Credit: by-studio / Adobe Stock
What makes conventional metal so strong is not just its atoms but the interactions between the atoms and the ways in which they slide against each other. The sliding allows for a small amount of elastoplastic deformation when pressure is applied, endowing metals with just enough malleability not to break, crack, or shatter.
Co-author Florian Raible of Max Perutz Labs surmises, "The construction principle that has made bristle worm jaws so successful apparently originated about 500 million years ago."
Raible explains, "The metal ions are incorporated directly into the protein chains and then ensure that different protein chains are held together." This leads to the creation of three-dimensional shapes the bristle worm can pack together into a structure that's just malleable enough to withstand a significant amount of force.
"It is precisely this combination," says the study's lead author Luis Zelaya-Lainez, "of high strength and deformability that is normally characteristic of metals.
So the bristle worm jaw is both metal-like and yet not. As Zelaya-Lainez puts it, "Here we are dealing with a completely different material, but interestingly, the metal atoms still provide strength and deformability there, just like in a piece of metal."
Observing the creation of a metal-like material from biological processes is a bit of a surprise and may suggest new approaches to materials development. "Biology could serve as inspiration here," says Hellmich, "for completely new kinds of materials. Perhaps it is even possible to produce high-performance materials in a biological way — much more efficiently and environmentally friendly than we manage today."
Dealing with rudeness can nudge you toward cognitive errors.
- Anchoring is a common bias that makes people fixate on one piece of data.
- A study showed that those who experienced rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to bad data.
- In some simulations with medical students, this effect led to higher mortality rates.
Cognitive biases are funny little things. Everyone has them, nobody likes to admit it, and they can range from minor to severe depending on the situation. Biases can be influenced by factors as subtle as our mood or various personality traits.
A new study soon to be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that experiencing rudeness can be added to the list. More disturbingly, the study's findings suggest that it is a strong enough effect to impact how medical professionals diagnose patients.
Life hack: don't be rude to your doctor
The team of researchers behind the project tested to see if participants could be influenced by the common anchoring bias, defined by the researchers as "the tendency to rely too heavily or fixate on one piece of information when making judgments and decisions." Most people have experienced it. One of its more common forms involves being given a particular value, say in negotiations on price, which then becomes the center of reasoning even when reason would suggest that number should be ignored.
It can also pop up in medicine. As co-author Dr. Trevor Foulk explains, "If you go into the doctor and say 'I think I'm having a heart attack,' that can become an anchor and the doctor may get fixated on that diagnosis, even if you're just having indigestion. If doctors don't move off anchors enough, they'll start treating the wrong thing."
Lots of things can make somebody more or less likely to anchor themselves to an idea. The authors of the study, who have several papers on the effects of rudeness, decided to see if that could also cause people to stumble into cognitive errors. Past research suggested that exposure to rudeness can limit people's perspective — perhaps anchoring them.
In the first version of the study, medical students were given a hypothetical patient to treat and access to information on their condition alongside an (incorrect) suggestion on what the condition was. This served as the anchor. In some versions of the tests, the students overheard two doctors arguing rudely before diagnosing the patient. Later variations switched the diagnosis test for business negotiations or workplace tasks while maintaining the exposure to rudeness.
Across all iterations of the test, those exposed to rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to the initial, incorrect suggestion despite the availability of evidence against it. This was less significant for study participants who scored higher on a test of how wide of a perspective they tended to have. The disposition of these participants, who answered in the affirmative to questions like, "Before criticizing somebody, I try to imagine how I would feel if I were in his/her place," was able to effectively negate the narrowing effects of rudeness.
What this means for you and your healthcare
The effects of anchoring when a medical diagnosis is on the line can be substantial. Dr. Foulk explains that, in some simulations, exposure to rudeness can raise the mortality rate as doctors fixate on the wrong problems.
The authors of the study suggest that managers take a keener interest in ensuring civility in workplaces and giving employees the tools they need to avoid judgment errors after dealing with rudeness. These steps could help prevent anchoring.
Also, you might consider being nicer to people.