Bryan Caplan  

In Praise of My Competition: Landsburg's More Sex is Safer Sex

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Since my own book is about to come out, it seems like a bad time to praise the competition. But I'm going to do it anyway. Steve Landsburg's More Sex is Safer Sex is fantastic. Once again, Steve has written a book where I have to say "I wish I wrote that" - as well as "How could I have missed that?"

Here's the passage that opened my eyes in the title essay:

Imagine a country where almost all women are monogamous, 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 disease on to the men; the men bring it home to their monogamous wives. But if each of these 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.
Model-building - where would we be without it?

And now for something completely different - Steve reinforces his place, second only to Julian Simon, as the wisest student of population issues:

Chicagoans are free to move to Nebraska and Calcuttans are free to move to the countryside. The reason they don't is that for all their complaining, they prefer the crowds. [And/or the indirect effects of the crowds. -B.C.] For goodness' sake, why are rents so high in Manhattan if not because some people have a high value on living near others?

Not that New Yorkers will admit it. In one recent survey, 37 percent of New Yorkers said they'd leave the city if they could. Of course, since none of them left the city, and since all of them could, the only proper conclusion is that 37 percent of New Yorkers lie to pollsters.


So why am I hurting my own sales by giving free publicity to a competitor? Well, for one thing, I could easily imagine that Steve's book and mine are complements, not substitutes. Who knows, maybe when people buy Steve's book, Amazon will try to upsell them to a Landsburg/Caplan bundle?

The real reason I'm promoting Steve's book, though, is that I enjoy saying what I really think. And I really think that Econlog readers will love this book.


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The author at De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum in a related article titled Novo livro de Landsburg writes:
    Imagine a country where almost all women are monogamous, 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 disease... [Tracked on April 16, 2007 4:24 AM]
COMMENTS (13 to date)
Steve Sailer writes:

Landsburg apparently hasn't read up on how "multiple concurrent partners" spreads AIDS in Africa.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/01/AR2007030101607.html

Model building is swell, but it helps to pay attention to a few facts.

Horatio writes:

Are rents high in Manhattan merely because people like to live near each other? Rents in luxury high rises in Downtown Chicago are much lower than comparable apartments in Manhattan. Government interference in the market explains much of the difference.

John Goes writes:

Ungrounded cleverness tends to be dull.

Fundamentalist writes:

"More sex is safer sex" is an accurate model if, and only if, all other factors having a bearing on the sexual activities of people, and the causes of STD's, are held constant, or ignored. Otherwise, it's stupid, a poor ad for the book, and an excellent example of mindles model building that plagues economics. Women don't just decide to be monogamous, and men don't just decide to need two sex partners; culture and religion determine both. By assuming culture and religion away, Landsburg makes his "model" unrealistic and useless.

Before long, the prostitutes are infected; If no STD existed in the first scenario (monogamous wifes and husbands visiting prostitutes) no one would become infected. Where do the STD's originate in the author's first scenario? Do they spontaneously generate themselves in the prositutes? Or could the prostitute's have gotten them from one of the husband's, or they may have started with a wife. Regardles of where you place the origin of STD's in the first scenario, there is every reason to believe the STD's will originate in the same way in the second scenario, in which case they will spread to others. So no! More sex is definately not safer sex.

Fundamentalist writes:

I should have said under Landsburg's rigid and unrealistic assumptions, more sex may translate into safer sex. But because his assumptions are rigid and unrealistic, the model is worthless except as a mind game. It's much like the perfect competition model in econ 101; an interesting excercise of no practical value.

dearieme writes:

On matters of sex, who is to say what is or isn't realistic? After all, on matters of sex, you can't believe a word anyone tells you.

Alternative model: If some of the monogamous wives were armed, the demand for prostitutes would die out as soon as a few husbands were shot.

mjh writes:

That article used to be published on Landsburg's site. It's no longer available. In January 2005, I read it and wrote Dr Landsburg an email asking several questions. He wrote back. Here's my own blog of the interaction:

http://dullgeek.blogspot.com/2005/01/monogomous-wives.html

In short, I don't find the recommendation to be that compelling and he admits that the model is not realistic. But if the model isn't realistic then what's the point of the recommendation based on that model?

Matt writes:

The sex model is interesting, but unreasonable. Practically speaking, once monogamy breaks down people don't stop at 1 extra partner. According to his model, STDs should have declined in the 1960's, 1970's, and 1980's, instead of exploding. The other thing is that if all the hookers have AIDS, I think the men will choose not to have sex with hookers.

TGGP writes:

Bryan, net interstate migration is from blue states like New York to red states and exurbs. You like to trumpet about how high home prices in California show immigrants haven't made it a worse place to live, but according to this native born Californians are leaving for greener pastures, whereas California was once a sort of promised-land for Midwesterners.

mjh writes:

As a midwestern expat (I lived in Wisconsin from '68-'92) most of the people I knew did not view California as any sort of promised-land. Most of us (who didn't live in Madison) thought that Californians were exceedingly wierd. None that I recall wanted to live there. The dream climate was Florida, not California.

Thomas B. writes:

I will stay in this city come hell or high water, but I'll be damned if I'm telling some jerk pollster that.

rvman writes:

People don't 'prefer the crowds'. If they did, they would be willing to pay more to live in New York at the same wage rate. Wages are higher in New York, along with the COL. This implies that it is the EMPLOYERS who like 'crowds' (competency clusters, like Silicon Valley or Wall Street), not the 'people' actually living in those places.

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