In an attempt to give my brain some exercise, I recently picked up a copy of the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Published in 1848, this important political document popularized the term capitalism, which characterizes today’s global economic system.
If I had written an article on this a couple of decades ago, there is a good chance I would have been bombarded with verbal attacks, strong opinions, and perhaps even an accusation or two of being a communist. But today “terrorist” is the fashionable insult to hurl and the Cold War feels like ancient history.
Despite the fact that the Communist Manifesto is now collecting dust on many shelves, I found myself captivated by the passion with which the authors wrote and intrigued by the truth in many of their observations and predictions. Communism is clearly flawed as a political system and I do not consider that to be the answer to humanity’s woes. However Marx and Engels do raise some good points. One quote in particular had me thinking about commercial sexual exploitation:
[The bourgeoisie] has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors” and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment.” It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom – free trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.
While I do not believe that capitalism is the cause of prostitution and sexual exploitation, I do think that it contributes to it. Here’s why:
- Under capitalism the means of production are privately owned and operated for private profit. Trafficked women and children are privately owned and put to work for the profit of their pimps, brothel owners, and traffickers. This is capitalism at its ugliest.
- Capitalism creates classes of haves and have nots, and the survival of the haves depends on the exploitation of the have nots. This system makes it very difficult for those at the bottom to rise up and leave a life of exploitation.
- Adam Smith’s invisible hand has undermined the ability of developing countries to “compete” in the global market, whereas wealthy nations had time establish themselves before laissez faire economics entered the picture. Sex tourism, which relies on the purchasing power of the dollar in impoverished countries, thrives within this global structure.
- A system that is based on greed will never protect the vulnerable.
- A capitalist mindset reinforces the idea that it is okay to pay for sex (because it is a service like any other), and that it is acceptable to treat the prostitute however you like (because you paid for it).
- Humans are dispensable, and their bodies are commodities that can be used for profit.
Capitalism, therefore, exacerbates sex trafficking and prostitution on two levels. First, it creates a global structure in which wealthy countries, corporations, and individuals get wealthier by exploiting the rest of the world. This creates groups of vulnerable people who are easy for traffickers to target. Second, it breeds entitlement and greed, which ultimately push men into the night to pay for their fantasies.
Be it capitalism or communism, greed is at the root of sex trafficking. What must we do to break the hold that greed has on us as a society?