Capitalism and consent

I’ve heard radical feminists talking about how having sex for money is rape, because the exchange of money prevents free consent under capitalism. And I’ve heard a response that, since you can refuse an offer to trade money for sex, it’s still consent.

We’ve determined as a society that lesser forms of pressure applied to a person are wrong. Threats of violence and blackmail are both illegal ways to get someone to act a certain way. If I blackmailed someone into working a particular job, that’s wrong. I don’t have to physically take hold of a person and move their limbs through the appropriate motions.

Threatening someone with death is wrong. Threatening to take away someone’s life-saving medication is wrong. Threatening to throw someone out in the wilderness in light clothing in Alaska in January is wrong. Threatening to take away the only food someone can obtain is wrong.

Unless you have a capitalist excuse.

It’s fine to evict someone from their apartment for not paying their rent. It’s not fine to throw someone out of the house they own. These acts are effectively the same, modulo capitalism. But our society says that the first is fine and the second is wrong. This is bizarre!

But we as a society have determined that that’s the way things will be, and that’s good and right, even if it kills people. Compelling someone with economic threats in an approved capitalist manner is perfectly fine. This isn’t right and it isn’t good, but that’s the society we’ve built.

The short of it is, society sets up a situation in which you must get money or die, and I can take advantage of your plight.

(Sex work is no different from any other sort of work this way. Some people say that sex work is degrading, but I’d rather have sex for money half a dozen times than spin a sign in the streets for a whole month.)

Since it’s society setting up that cruddy situation and individuals deciding whether to contribute to your continued survival, there’s a diffusion of responsibility problem. It’s very hard for me to give up money that goes to my own continued survival to help you with your continued survival. It’s much easier to push for society to be rearranged among gentler lines. (This would have to be a holistic change. There’s no sense going after one profession in particular while ignoring the rest.) How might we do that?

Welfare allows you to suffer but not quite to the point of death, assuming you can prove to a bureaucrat that your suffering is sufficiently abject.

Charity is much like welfare. It’s hard to find an appropriate charity to help you. What sort of aid you get is up to a body of do-gooders who are typically convinced that you’re going to drink away any cash you get (and that that’s a bad thing and their responsibility to stop).

A minimum wage requires you to sell your body but at least guarantees that you’ll get a certain efficiency from the deal.

Basic income and guaranteed minimum income free you from having to sell yourself if your needs are modest. You don’t even have to prove that you are suffering to get help. But people are afraid that fewer people would work and it would cost them some of their treasured amenities. Or that it would take greater and greater monetary incentives to get people to work the jobs required to let everyone live — that there would be famines due to a lack of farm workers, for instance. Guaranteed minimum income is slightly worse in this regard: an employer must pay a lot in order for me to improve my lot by working.

Socialism gets rid of this problem entirely. In exchange, you may be conscripted to help your society when you otherwise would not want to — just like a draft.

Like those radical feminists, I think the economic exchange can take away part of your ability to consent freely — as long as you need to work to make money to survive. The problem is not sex work, any more than we should single out window washers or automotive manufacturing workers as a profession to “save”. The problem is that capitalism determines who deserves to live. I’m not going to label sex work as rape, any more than I’m going to label having a job as slavery, but capitalism has far too much power, and we need to fix that.

For the record, I favor basic income over socialism. Planned economies remove some inefficiencies, but free markets are very good at routing goods to those who want them.

Wage gap and controls

The United States has a strong male/female wage gap. Women make roughly 82% of what men make (among full time non-seasonal employees). An ideal wage gap would be one small enough not to be statistically significant.

When you control for factors like education, experience, and field, the wage gap drops significantly. Huzzah, job done, no more inequality! Yes?


Discrimination in hiring practices between different fields with different pay grades will produce wage inequality. In fact, there’s evidence that women joining a field in numbers reduces wages in that field.

Discrimination in education will reduce women’s ability to get jobs in fields that require education.

Discrimination in marketing jobs or the hiring process will reduce the likelihood that women will choose jobs in a field. For instance, if it’s common to meet over drinks when interviewing for a software development job, that’s effectively discrimination. The CDC is recommending that all women who are not on birth control eschew alcohol, for instance. Women are generally instructed to avoid alcohol in order to avoid rape. So try to avoid introducing alcohol in your hiring process.

Discrimination in parental leave and expectations of child rearing will result in women having fewer years of experience at a given age. This is even more significant because women are more likely to be in fields with low wages, so it makes more sense for women rather than men in heterosexual marriages to give up their jobs.

Discrimination in who is expected to be a primary caregiver outside of parental leave has another impact. Primary caregivers must be available to tend to sick children. They must have schedules that match their kids’ school schedules. They must have flexible schedules for when their children have a half day at school. This restricts the type of job that caregivers can hold and what companies they can work for. This sort of restriction competes with optimizing for wages, which, in a capitalist society, is the duty of every worker. This is bad enough in a heterosexual marriage, where it would be in theory possible to share work evenly between men and women. But over a quarter of children live with only one parent, and more than three fourths of single parents are women.

These are all real and important forms of inequality that people remove from their calculations when trying to derive a “real” wage gap from the raw numbers.

It’s sensible, for certain reasons, to control for these factors. If you’re only looking for a certain type of unfair compensation practice that’s common across many fields, this can be useful. If you’re deciding whether to stand on the deck of an aircraft carrier and declare “Mission Accomplished”, you should look at the raw numbers. And if you want to know where inequality is cropping up, you need to slice and dice the numbers six ways from Sunday instead of trying to control for a handful of traits. What’s clear is that we still have work to do.