Doug French – November 24, 2018
The New York Times reminded us that two things which go together are a currency crisis and prostitution. The featured story on October 28 was the red light district in uber-depressed Athens where “Dimitra, a middle-aged woman who lost her [flower] shop in the crisis and now works as a madam on Filis Street. ‘I used to be called Mrs. Dimitra, but now I’ve become a whore.’”
Reporter Iliana Magra begins her piece relating the sales pitch for the services of Elena for a price of 20 euros ($23). She writes,
The trade is more desperate now because of Greece’s lost decade since the 2008 financial crisis, which has left no profession unscathed. The collapsed economy and the arrival of tens of thousands of migrants have pushed even more women into prostitution — even as prices have fallen through the floor.
Meanwhile, Maduro’s socialism and hyper-inflation makes life unbearable in Venezuela, and neighboring Columbia has seen an influx of women willing to work in the oldest profession.
In one brothel of 60 women, 58 were from Venezuela and just two were from Colombia. One woman, a mother of two who was a ballerina and businesswoman in her home country, told Sky News, “I would give this up if there was any other option. This is a shameful job, but what option do I have?
Gabriel Sánchez, who operates a brothel in Arauca, Colombia, told the Miami Herald, “We’ve got lots of teachers, some doctors, many professional women and one petroleum engineer,” he yelled over the din of vallenato music. “All of them showed up with their degrees in hand.”
With shelves empty in Venezuela, women must either wait in line for hours to buy flour at prices set by the government or turn to the black market and pay many times more. Instead, a woman named Dayana, told the Herald she can make $50 to $100 a night as a prostitute, which she admits isn’t a good job, “But I’m thankful for it, because it’s allowing me to buy food and support my family.”
Jim Wyss writes for the Herald,
Marili, a 47-year-old grandmother and former teacher, said there was a time when she would have been ashamed to admit she’s a prostitute. Now she says she’s grateful to have a job that allows her to buy hypertension medication for her mother back in Caracas.
“We’re all just women who are working to support our families,” she said. “I refuse to criticize anyone, including myself. We all have to work.”
The debauchery of the Weimar era mark was followed by women and men resorting to activities they would have never dreamed of to live.
“When the 1,000-billion Mark note came out, few bothered to collect the change when they spent it. By November 1923, with one dollar equal to one trillion Marks, the breakdown was complete,” wrote George J.W. Goodman “Adam Smith” in his book Paper Money. He explained, “Prostitutes of both sexes roamed the streets.”
Mel Gordon wrote in Voluptuous Panic: The Erotic World of Weimar Berlin,
Arriving in Berlin during the hyperinflation crisis (1923), Klaus Mann—son the great German novelist Thomas Mann—remembered walking past a group of dominatrices: “Some of them looked like fierce amazons, strutting in high boots made of green, glossy leather. One of them brandished a supple cane and leered at me as I passed by. ‘Good evening, madam,’ I said. She whispered in my ear, ‘Want to be my slave? Costs only six billions and a cigarette.’
Thomas Mann would write the novella Disorder and Early Sorrow that was the focus of professor Paul Cantor’s seminal 1994 essay “Thomas Mann in Light of Austrian Economics.”
Cantor describes Mann’s work.
Set in Weimar Germany during the time of the hyperinflation, this story takes on new meaning once it is analyzed in terms of [Ludwig von] Mises’s theory of inflation and the crack-up boom. With Mann’s uncanny ability to mirror economic and social reality in his fiction, he succeeds even without any knowledge of Austrian economics in bringing out the psychological ramifications of an inflationary environment with a subtlety of insight Mises would have admired.
While prostitution isn’t a part of “Disorder” per se, Cantor reflects,
Hence to tamper with the basic money supply is to tamper with a community’s sense of value. By making money worthless, inflation threatens to undermine and dissolve all sense of value in a society.
Thus Mann suggests a connection between inflation and nihilism. Perhaps in no society has nihilism ever been as prevalent an attitude as it was in Weimar Germany:
Mann documents the fall of the middle class in the case of the Hinterhofers:
two sisters once of the lower middle class who, in these evil days, are reduced to living “au pair” as the phrase goes and officiating as cook and housemaid for their board and keep. (p. 191)
Mann shows how hard it is for these women to live with their sense of economic degradation, portraying the shame and bitterness of Cecilia Hinterhofer:
Her bearing is as self-assertive as usual, this being her way of sustaining her dignity as a former member of the middle class. For Fraulein Cecilia feels acutely her descent into the ranks of domestic service. . . . She hands the dishes with averted face and elevated nose-a fallen queen. (p. 202)
Mann’s story illustrates how living in hyperinflation forces the populace to live for the moment, with formerly middle-class women and men doing whatever they must in order to survive.
In today’s Greece, the supply of prostitutes exceeds demand in the sense that many potential customers do not have any money. “In 2012, it would require an average of 39 euros” for a client to hire a prostitute in a brothel, Grigoris Lazos, a professor of criminology at Panteion University in Athens told the New York Times, “while in 2017 just €17 — a 56 percent decrease.”
The Times reports there are 798 brothels operating in Athens, while the local police know of 300 bordellos. However, men in Athens don’t have jobs or money. “They don’t have money,” an Albanian prostitute named Monica told the Times. “They haven’t had money for the past seven years.”
While #metoo is sweeping American culture, it’s do what you have to do where the currency and economy have collapsed. For now the US dollar is strong and all is well. Meanwhile Bloomberg headlines recently screamed, “Treasury Sees 2018 Borrowing Needs Surging to $1.34 Trillion.”
This article was originally published at Mises.org. Douglas French is an economist, former president of the Mises Institute, author of Early Speculative Bubbles & Increases in the Money Supply , and author of Walk Away: The Rise and Fall of the Home-Ownership Myth.