Sunday, June 24, 2012

Whores, Johns and Pimps

Who do the whores work for?
  • They provide services to the johns.
  • They work to procure money for the pimps.
  • They work for themselves and , if lucky, get to keep some of the money for themselves.

Their loyalties are to whom? Clearly, they suffer from a compound conflict of interest. In my four decades in Italy, the country that gave a name to nepotism, I've marveled at Italians' inability to grasp the concept of conflict of interest. Otherwise, they never could have elected a Berlusconi, or even permitted him to run for office. There are many otherwise intelligent Italians who cannot grasp this, but it's not always simple territory. Triangulated conflicts of interest are hard to control or regulate and the nature of the conflicts is not always transparent.

We've got lots of whoring going on in Umbria. A few years ago we even had a whore-related murder right here in Acqualoreto. One john was murdered and another (presumed) john was accused, tried, convicted of the murder and then acquitted on appeal. No mention of a pimp! Was this just traditional Italian obliviousness to conflict of interest? We'll never know.

Any whore, once paid, may just run off with the john's credit cards while his pants are off. In a similar vein, a pro quarterback who professes total dedication to his team, may decide to hold out for more money and miss training camp, thus hurting his team's chances. A corporate CEO, appointed and paid to work for the benefit of the company's shareholders, may award himself salary and benefits so high as to damage the financial well-being of that company. These are all inner conflicts on the part of one party in a two party deal, a matter of personal integrity. We all face such conflicts somewhere along the line. The real conflicts of interest begin when a third party gets involved.

Whores may face inner conflicts. They may come to like their johns or their pimps too well, or be too disgusted by them for the good of the business. Johns may be conflicted about whether they're doing something wrong, being taken advantage of by the whores, or taking advantage of them. Pimps instead, are unlikely to suffer such misgivings. The entrepreneurial spirit that we assiduously strive to instill in our best and brightest youth is exemplified in its purest state in the pimping profession. The profit motive is unsullied by ethical concerns, legal considerations, pride in one's reputation, or nostalgic personal feelings about the welfare of clients, workers, or the community at large.

Good whores provide a service that makes the johns happy, and their work may even bring in a respectable income. However, they often end up badly after being maltreated by their pimps. As for the pimps, they seem to make out pretty well. None of us wants to see them prosper, just as we recoil at seeing bank CEOs prosper the way they have in recent years, but maybe that's just because we're neither pimps nor banksters.

The triangular relationship is remarkably similar to the situation with our political representatives. Let's just say that they're all whores. (Now, before politicians start a class action libel suit against me, I want to spell it out for them that I'm speaking metaphorically. I do not accuse them of selling sex.) We the constituents are the johns and our whores are well-paid to provide us services, such as writing laws, which hopefully provide extensive public services while providing us with generous tax cuts, or bringing unneeded defense contractors to our districts. But we, the johns, didn't put them on that prominent spot on the street, or slick up their public image. Their pimps created their media display windows and, while our best whores make all the right noises and try to make us feel good, at the end of the day most of our money ends up in the pockets of the pimps, whether they're called media moguls, bank chairmen, or simply oligarchs.

I wouldn't want to push this analogy too far but the only place I see it breaking down is that, unlike our traditional whores, who are often beaten, sold and abused by their pimps, our political whores seem to be very well taken care of by their pimps. When their usefulness in capitol corridors wanes, they are sent out on K Street as senior citizen whores working for lobbying firms, think tanks, Faux News or Pimp Foundations. Unlike their traditional sisters, their income keeps increasing with age and experience.

A current trend in government is to bring in third parties to provide public services paid for by the government. This is happening in everything from parking meters to schools and, most alarmingly, in the military, where mercenaries in Iraq and Afghanistan are now as numerous as our official troops. It's called privatization. I suggest that it could better be described as bringing in the pimps. Our troops used to do our dirty work for us. They worked cheap but we honored them with patriotic songs and medals. We still pay the bill but now half of them are working for pimps who see to it that they get paid more and decide on the terms of their service.

Prostitution is said to be the world's oldest profession and it's unlikely to go away. Many social critics have suggested that the whores should be allowed to ply their trade while the pimps should be suppressed. I would add that this approach makes sense to me for our political whores as well. Simple conflicts of interest may be a fact of life but triangular ones usually lead to bad results. They should be avoided or eliminated.