The impending Depression Lite will be a boon to high-end sex workers, researcher Sudhir Venkatesh assures Slate readers. Venkatesh has made a name for himself in the post-Freakonomics, après-Spitzer era of hooker metrics, and the high end of the industry is his niche. Venkatesh actually does get that the sex trade is way more about moneyed escapism than anything else. But when he spins off onto the subject of "high-tech" hookers, he loses his credibility.
The long tail functions in sex work, too. Half of the 300 sex workers Venkatesh has interviewed work in the so-called "high end" of the business, but they hardly constitute half of sex trade workers. The majority are pulling the equivalent of paycheck-to-paycheck for barely middle-class wages; few get paid vacations or stock grants. Never does Venkatesh define what the high end is. Slate's photo of a high-heeled model leaning into a car is a cliché from another decade, before the Internet made streetwalking unprofitable.
Lawyers are a saving grace. Venkatesh proposes that client diversification is essential to sex workers, just as it is to financial firms, for making it through an economic downturn. Yet he believes this is difficult for workers to pull off in our closed professional networks. He's halfway there. Even though I had the reputation among my colleagues for entertaining (and consensually humiliating) lawyers, hedge fund guys, ex-military, and even a few who made good with their startups, that didn't mean those were the only types of clients we collectively had access to. Honestly, lawyers — the bread and butter of the $1,000+/hour market — were the clients who hopped from escort to escort the most, sampling everyone. A few were notorious for this, and we all did well for it, by sharing them.
Even high-end workers lose money by "paying for protection." He's part right, again: Successful high-end workers are more likely to pay a premium to start a corporation under a proxy board, or hire a private detective to figure out if they are under surveillance, or keep an understanding attorney/accountant on retainer just in case. This is the reality of running a cash-rich business, gray market or not — not an inevitable risk assumed from fucking for money.
(UPDATE: Original pic swapped out, Aug 21 2009)