NPF Followup

I'm impressed by the readers who have finished the Realdoll documentary movie, and I'm a bit embarrassed by not having finished it myself. This weekend was my birthday, and I have needed to avoid hangover/headache inducing activites, so the rest of the video will have to wait a bit longer before being finished.

And I forgot about the two-handed broadsword.

Some people have mentioned the question as to whether the people in the video are either less or more of a threat to women now that they spend their free time acting out sex crimes on an inanimate object. Do Realdolls keep them locked up voluntary in their house (de facto prison), or is it just practice for the real thing? Would it be ethical to give Ed Gein a Realdoll, or would the Realdoll just make him an even more energetic (and efficient) monster?

Luckily an economist from Clemson University wrote an interesting paper about this with porn. It has that weird air of autistic thought that economist get (the kind that defines porn as a non-rivalrous, non-excludable public good with potential positive externalities), that I love but can be very off-putting. He looked at reports of rape incidents and correlates them against % access to the internet by time in communities after controlling for all the usual suspects of variables. Here's the abstract:

The arrival of the internet caused a large decline in both the pecuniary and non-pecuniary costs of accessing pornography. Using state-level panel data from 1998-2003, I find that the arrival of the internet was associated with a reduction in rape incidence. However, growth in internet usage had no apparent effect on other crimes. … These results, which suggest that pornography and rape are substitutes, are in contrast with most previous literature.

I love natural experiments in economics, and this is a pretty good one. The study finds a 10 percent increase in Net access yields about a 7.3 percent decrease in reported rapes. The normal problems that you have with statistical studies of this sort are all accounted for – and the results are glaring in the data. It may also explain part of why teenage births have decreased since the mid-90s. (It doesn't handle long-vs-short term issues of watching porn, and if you see porn itself as analogous to rape, there is another critique to be had.)

For what it is worth, and the author himself positions himself against this view quickly, but what the hell (It's 1:30pm and I'm still hungover): whenever we have goods with these qualities we tend to think the government should be in the business of helping to provide them (markets underallocate them). And other substitute goods for criminal goods are applauded in society (afterschool programs as a substitute against gang recruitment, for instance). I suggested to someone (they were naturally horrified) that $5K of our tax dollars for a realdoll purchase voucher, in exchange for a voluntary registration as a sex offender (and maybe one of those lowjack monitor ankle things) is significantly better deal that what it "costs" if he acts otherwise. I don't think any politicians are going to run on that platform though (A Chicken in Every Pot! A Realdoll in Every Closet!), though it would be kind of neat.

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2 Responses to “NPF Followup”

  1. J. Dryden Says:

    At the risk of being *screamingly* offensive, I'll point out that his article alludes to, but doesn't explore the fact that there are multiple forms of rape–in particular, 'aquaintance rape' v. 'stranger rape'–and that porn might act as a 'substitute' for one but not the other. Since all acts of rape–while equally horrific and reprehensive–are not identical (anymore than, say, all acts of murder are not identical), and perhaps spring from different motives/urges, porn might appease one demon but not another. So that, say, I'd be interested to see if there'd been a significant drop in one *kind* of rape, but not in another, and if so, whether better conclusions might be drawn about what porn acts as a substitute for. (Though frankly, I'm skeptical about the use of the behavior of rapists as a barometer for the way in what porn affects all those who 'partake'–that seems a bit of 'forced causality' along the lines of "Well, he took psychiatric medication and then killed a bunch of people, so clearly, psychiatric medicine makes the problem worse.")

  2. Mike Says:

    Very good points – and the one obvious endogenity/statistical issue that the study doesn't (and probably can't) account for is whether internet arrival correlates against a decrease in the _reportage_ of rape crimes, as opposed to any actual crime.

    The other issue is whether sexual crimes are going to jump/skyrocket when this exogenous shock becomes (has become?) an equilibrium – or once it has diffused over the entirety of society. The people who were the very, very first on the internet, especially at a young age (the sample alluded to in this study) are probably not good barometers as to what will ultimately happen long-term with the general population. Which is exactly what you posted.