Money Changes Everything

In the first chapter of SuperFreakonomics, we write at some length about the economics of prostitution, both among street prostitutes and a high-end call girls.

One of the most interesting aspects of prostitution is that it involves a good or service (or whatever you want to call it) — sex — which, when undertaken for free by consenting adults is legal but which becomes illegal when money changes hands.

Can you think of other goods and services that share this trait? Let’s also consider examples where money doesn’t necessarily make the practice illegal, but at the very least taboo or socially repugnant.

I will put a few more examples below the fold, so as not to ruin the guessing game, but I am hoping you all can collectively expand this list many times over.

A few other goods and services that come to mind: human organs; children (you can put your baby up for adoption but cannot sell it); and — my favorite, suggested by a smart fellow I met recently — political favors.


Political favors are fundamentally different from selling organs or prostitution. In the case of political favors (or other forms of bribery and kickbacks), the recipient of the money has a fiduciary duty to someone else. The problem is that the governement official (or whoever receives the bribe) is induced to act in a way contrary to that necessary to fulfil his duty.

In contrast, in the case of human organs and prostitution (what Al Roth calls "repugnant transactions") there is no third party that is harmed. The only reason that such transactions are illegal or repugnant, is that many people are busybodies who want to impose their preferences and will on others.


Divorced and divorcing parents who dispute child custody and visitation


Home or online poker


I guess when you get right down to it, NOTHING is given freely. When you donate an organ (assuming you are alive), you do it because it makes you feel like you've done something worthwhile.

If you have sex with someone, it is because it either makes you feel good/better...or perhaps because you have a need to make someone else feel good/better. Or maybe you know it will give you access to certain things in the future (I'm betting Tiger Woods' lovers will use their 15 minutes of fame as best they can).


As someone pointed out here some time ago, EVEN JESUS, the best there ever way, did it for "the joy that was set before Him." He did it for a that He thought outweighed the pain of the cross.

So we are in good company when we do something for some consideration, money or not.

However, it being the case that we are doing it for some reason, I don't see why that reason couldn't be money.

The only drawback is that when it's about money, only the rich profit from certain sacrifices. The poor might be able to buy those dishes at my garage sale...but only the rich get the big ticket items like my kidney.

Hey, that's just like it is now! The rich get the really cool stuff while the rest of us make do with the lesser things.

What a concept.



Sex can go back the other way, though - if you have sex with someone, pay them, and take pictures of it, it's legal again (unless you're underage, in which case it's still illegal.)

David Annis



I'd also like to add child care. There was an article referenced in this blog some time ago about a group of sisters who were esentially caring for each others children and counting this as a job to qualify for welfare benefits. People were outraged that a person would be paid to care for children in their family. But of course, not outraged that a worker at a day-care would get paid to look after other people's children.

It's OK to care for children in your family, but not if money is exchanged.


Security - If the person pays money willingly for protection from mafia or underworld then it is legal, but if the same person pays money under threat to get protection then its illegal...


Perhaps gambling? It is perfectly legal for an office to have a casino night for a holiday party and give out prizes at the end of the night based on participants' luck during the party, but in most places it is illegal to wager actual money on the same games of chance.


A promise not to reveal embarrassing information (blackmail).


IP addresses.

The impending exhaustion of IP addresses (there can only be about 4 billion total in IPv4) has been in the news recently, with the assumed fix being to move to IPv6, which would allow for a virtually unlimited supply.

But the truth is that 4 billion IP addresses is plenty. Most of us don't really need our own IP address; many large corporations have thousands of people sharing a single address just fine (using NAT technology). If there were a market where those of us who don't need an IP address could sell to those who do, it seems there would be no exhaustion after all.

But the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority does not allow for that kind of trading...


Giving gifts--it's still considered socially awkward to give money as a gift while giving an item wouldn't be. (I know a lot of young married couple that would have more use for some $$$ than a waffle maker. So why not just give money?)

Peter M. O'Donnell

Political favors in government certainly, but there are many kinds of politics. Money ought not change hands for school admissions, the granting of honors or the publication of news/opinion/research.

Exchanging money transforms these relationships - and perhaps more importantly, the goods themselves - from sacrosanct to merely commercial. It also follows that commercial relationships and goods are commodities - and these supposed sacred things cannot be accepted by society as anything less.


giving a student a few extra points so that he or she may pass a course.


# 8 - "If the person pays money willingly for protection from mafia or underworld then it is legal" - it is still illegal. If you employ them as security guards, and they pay taxes on the money received and salary paid, then it is legal. Then they are not mafia, but security agencies. If you are paying because you want protection, but you have no record of the payment, then it is illegal. It is extortion.



Robert Cook

Giving (an adult) alcohol, in your home, is legal, but selling him alcohol without a licence is illegal; same goes for other things requiring licencing, such as a haircut or a hot dog.


A) personal sex tapes

B) homemade food (where vending requires a permit)

Shrey Goyal

healthcare in Canada...

Doug Nelson

Event tickets (varies by region)
Many things requiring a license, if you don't have said license (alcohol, guns, medical diagnosis, car ride)