Economist Tyler Cowen frequently posts stories about markets in odd or perverse things. Here is a CNN story (that I can’t seem to embed) about a Brazilian woman who is auctioning off her virginity that should make Tyler’s list. The woman is following the lead of another Brazilian who did so recently for $780,000.
I support changing laws to allow people to sell one of their kidneys, to buy/sell intoxicating substances, and even to sell sex (prostitution). But let’s remember that libertarianism does not equal “choiceatarianism” and thus not all market transactions are good ones even if they don’t create direct negative externalities.* For starters, virginity markets treat women (and potentially men I suppose) as merely means to our sexual pleasure rather than as dignified individuals. In the earlier case, the buyer would simply get to jump in a plane, copulate with the Brazilian woman for a minimum of an hour, and then drop her off and go home. And I’m guessing that a world of such transactions would not amount to human flourishing despite yielding passing pleasure to the people buying the product (and perhaps in some cases to the people selling it too). I’m also guessing most people have an intuitive notion that selling sex isn’t the same thing as what the butcher, brewer, and baker are doing.
This story reminded me of Sven’s post about Les Miz. He calls such things dreadful even if heroic in extremis. But Fantine’s sacrifice is not what we’d like to normalize outside of that horrible context. In the case of the Brazilian woman in the CNN story, I started thinking that maybe this was a similar case given the mother’s situation. However, it quickly changed once the local news station offered to pay her mother’s medical bills and now the virginity sale was about much more.
I’m guessing that libertarians would fall on different sides of this one and that some might think of this as another example of “tensions within libertarianism” – except that I don’t see our reaction to this case having anything to do with libertarianism since libertarianism is an almost purely political theory without much to say about ethics outside of the political realm.
* Some readers might say, “duh, that is obvious.” However, one certainly gets the sense reading many elite libertarian voices that choices of all kinds should be celebrated no matter what is being chosen.