Imagine a drug so powerful it can destroy a family simply by distorting a man’s perception of his wife. Picture an addiction so lethal it has the potential to render an entire generation incapable of forming lasting marriages and so widespread that it produces more annual revenue — $97 billion worldwide in 2006 — than all of the leading technology companies combined. Consider a narcotic so insidious that it evades serious scientific study and legislative action for decades, thriving instead under the ever-expanding banner of the First Amendment.Pornography deserves a second look from economics. The libertarians have tended to treat it as a private matter, and argue that there is no disputing tastes. However, as a compulsion or addition it would be interesting from the point of view of behavioral economics. And if we recognize that it has externalities, mainstream public finance has a lot to say about it. I have been wondering if the enthusiasm many economists have for the global warming scare is not in large part due to the fact that they see it as an externality problem, and economists know how to fix externality problems.
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