Adult Industry Troubles and the Possibility of Self-Enforcement


For those who may have been paying attention, there's apparently a bit of a shake-up in the adult film industry. It seems that several performers have tested positive for HIV. In the wake of such a tragedy, the entire US business has placed a 60 day moratorium on the production of hardcore films. And it's a ban that's working, apparently.

Now, I don't mean to come down on either side of the debate about adult films in general, and don't really care to bring it up here. My interest is in the mechanism that's resulted in the shutdown of production. The current California law hasn't mandated such a move. There isn't a national adult films regulatory agency that's enforcing it. Apparenlty, the decision is made from a (sane, if you ask me) rational decision that everyone should stop until widespread testing clears as many people as possible. The costs of defecting are incredibly high, of course, making cooperation seem like the best idea.

Not surprisingly, however, the government of California has a slightly different take on things. Presented with this level of cooperation and self-regulation, they decide...more state interference is clearly necessary:

LACounty Department of Health Services has issued an emergency order forcing the industry's own health clinic to hand over the medical records of quarantined performers. And a bill introduced into the state assembly proposes increasingtesting from every month to every two weeks, and making condom use mandatory.

So long as adult films are legal, people are going to make them, which means that people will be willing to engage in incredibly risky behavoir, as I believe it is their right to do (of course, when they are illegal, people will still make them -- just fewer of them). The industry-wide shutdown of production brings to a halt film production. And in a rather insular industry, I would assume that communication is quick and comprehensive. Deviation from the ban won't go unnoticed, making the defectors virtual pariahs. Increasing testing won't stop the behavior, and the cost of monitoring condom use would be incredibly high. Should the taxpayers be forced to pay for the state's attempts to either be on sets or watch enough videos to catch people breaking the rules when there is a self-enforcing system already in place?

Even the potentially economically untrained members of the adult industry know a thing or two about incentives:

Industry leaders are themselves not immune to such suggestions but weigh the desirability of tighter regulation against the risk of porn production going underground or - worse still, from a business point of view - fleeing California for Nevada or Arizona.

The first actor to have tested positive, according to the story, contracted the disease in Brazil. Another performer worked as a prostitute as well. The disease, then, was contracted outside both the scope (Brazil) of California regulation and the reach of California enforcement (prostitution -- though the article doesn't say the performer was a prostitute in California; I'm assuming here the same inability to rid the streets of all prostitution). Increasing the state regulation simply pushes otherwise compliant productions to the other side of the law; the regulation does nothing to stem demand.

Catching the disease before it spreads to another person is of considerable value. The system in place, however, has been responsive, and could prove adaptive (more frequent testing). State law won't change the risk attitudes of performers, it will only reclassify what they do as illegal. People will either get better at lying, making it harder for the industry to regulate itself, or move work across borders.

In this case, regulation not only leads to more crime, but less business as well.


Sad really, half of L.A. is out of work.

Here is what I find really absurd about reactionary laws like the proposed mandated condom use. Apparently the state legislature believes that a fine will create the necessary incentive to use a condom when the prospect of a slow, painful death does not.

What about providing health insurance for the adult film workers and not employing anyone under 21? I'd be willing to pay more taxes. They label the actors "independent contractors" so they don't have to insure them. If these people were treated more like human beings, they might not be so compelled to take such risks.


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This page contains a single entry by published on May 8, 2004 8:24 PM.

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