Rupert Everett in Soho. Photograph: William Baker/Channel 4
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Rupert Everett’s prostitution documentary, Love for Sale, seeks fantasy not reality

In reality, prostitution is not the world’s oldest profession – it is one of the world’s oldest oppressions. 

Rupert Everett introduces his Channel 4 documentary, Love for Sale, with an explanation. Prostitution and acting are "the world's oldest professions," he says; the only difference between the two being that, while actors "sell their feelings," prostitutes "grind away at their pussies with much less fuss but with more wear and tear". In fact, Everett considers himself "the greater whore" and is "frustrated" that despite the "fine line between acting and whoring," actors are given greater rewards and privileges in this world.

This misogynistic and ignorant introduction sets a tone that persists throughout the first episode.

While the series claims to explore how and why prostitution happens, the reality of servicing strange, often violent men, day in and day out and of being physically used and abused as a means of survival is glossed over. In reality, prostitution is not the world's oldest profession - it is one of the world's oldest oppressions.

One of the greatest failures of the first episode is Everett's unwillingness to acknowledge that which is most evident. The first episode asks "why people sell sex," but avoids the most obvious answer: demand. "People" (the vast majority of whom are women) sell sex primarily to men. If there were no male demand for paid sex, there would be no prostitution. Another unaddressed truth is that prostitution is not and has never been about female desire or fulfillment. Rather, it exists because of male power and entitlement. We, as a society believe not only that men have the right to access women's bodies, but that buying sex doesn't simply fulfill a desire, but a need. Everett himself believes that in order to abolish prostitution, we would need to "re-wire" men's brains.

This grim outlook on men's nature, wherein we assume men "need" sex with women who don't desire them shows little concern for how that supposed "hard-wired" "need" impacts women.

When writer and exited prostitute, Rachel Moran, who authored a powerful memoir detailing her seven years as a prostitute in Dublin, speaks with Everett, he is dismissive. When she tells him that "unwanted sex, even if you are paid for it, is damaging" and that society need not include prostitution, Everett doesn't listen, lecturing her as though she is delusional. "There is no way of changing this fundamental thing," he says.

But Everett's notion of a "safer, cleaner, more comforting" industry is the real delusion. It exists nowhere in history or in our current world. What he is defending is institutionalised oppression.

"Half of me don't want," an escort named "Juliana" who sends most of her earnings back to her family in Brazil, tells Everett, "and half of me needs." The camera stares at Juliana's breasts as Everett explains to her that she "lives like a movie star". He speaks on her behalf, so we'll never know if she agrees.

"I never liked this work and never wanted to do it," a male prostitute working in Tel Aviv tells Everett. The young man is an illegal immigrant from Jordan who doesn't have the ID card needed in order for him to move to Israel. He sells sex because he has no other choice. The man is Muslim and says: "if suicide was permitted, I would have done it."

A high-end male escort named "Bruno" tells Everett that he lost eight friends to suicide in the last 18 months and that the work leaves you "in very dark places" psychologically. Yet Everett concludes that the only harm of prostitution is that those in the industry are made into "social outcasts." When Everett discusses his friend Lychee, a transwoman who was murdered while prostituting, he fails to acknowledge that the violence came, not from abstract ideas such as social stigma, but from individuals – men, specifically. Often the very men who pay for sex.

Despite what happened to Lychee, Everett is unwilling to stop romanticising the industry, saying about Paris's Bois de Boulogne, where many transwomen work as prostitutes and where Lychee was murdered: "I adore this place, the notion of have sex outside in the trees – to me, this is a place of great romance and mystery…" "…And danger of course," he adds, as an afterthought. What Everett calls "eccentric" and "human" is violent and destructive to others and for that reason, people's "eccentricities" are of less interest to me than the lives of those impacted and destroyed by what Everett sees as "funny games".

Blaming abstract ideas like "social stigma" and religion functions as a means to avoid addressing a more unpleasant reality – that prostitution is physically, mentally, and emotionally damaging and that most people enter into prostitution because they are marginalised and have no alternative. "It isn't the stigma we need to eradicate," Moran tells Everett, "it's prostitution itself."

"We aren't doing it because we love it," a British woman, working the streets to pay for her drug addiction tells him, "it's a case of survival." Does Everett think she would feel differently if "stigma" weren't a factor?

On a whiteboard at an escort agency he visits, there are notes about certain clients (Everett calls them "the naughty boys"). Next to the name "Johnny12" is the word "rough." Everett jokes: "Johnny12 sounds my type." As though the violence suffered by women in prostitution is nothing more than a kinky, sexy little joke.

Everett claims he wants to "get behind stereotypes" that say prostituted women are either "immoral slags" or "powerless victims" but it feels as though he simply wants to replace one stereotype with another – that of the "happy hooker."

Everett visits Amsterdam, where prostitution is legal, in an effort to show how "empowering" it is when prostitution happens "out in the open". But in this supposedly "safe" atmosphere, women continue to be murdered and abused in the legal shop windows. A woman he speaks to there spends her days "screening" the gangs of drunken men who walk by her window, trying to guess which ones might rip her off, beat her, or worse. Is this what "empowerment" looks like?

Everett wants to sell a notion of prostitution as glamorous, sexually liberating, and economically empowering, but reality gets in the way. "A teacher can nearly double her weekly take-home income with just a good day's work with this agency," Everett proclaims. As though living in a world wherein a teacher must resort to selling sex on the side in order to survive is a great social achievement.

Everett claims to have set out to uncover the "truth" about prostitution in Love for Sale, but it's clear he – like so many others in this world – is unwilling to see the truth, lest his fantasies be destroyed. The title of the documentary speaks to this – in prostitution, it isn't "love" that is for sale, but rather power, sold by those who have none.

Meghan Murphy is a writer and journalist from Vancouver, Canada. Her website is Feminist Current. Meghan advocates for a model of law known as the Nordic model, which decriminalises prostitutes and criminalises the johns. You can follow her on Twitter @meghanemurphy.

 

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We're racing towards another private debt crisis - so why did no one see it coming?

The Office for Budget Responsibility failed to foresee the rise in household debt. 

This is a call for a public inquiry on the current situation regarding private debt.

For almost a decade now, since 2007, we have been living a lie. And that lie is preparing to wreak havoc on our economy. If we do not create some kind of impartial forum to discuss what is actually happening, the results might well prove disastrous. 

The lie I am referring to is the idea that the financial crisis of 2008, and subsequent “Great Recession,” were caused by profligate government spending and subsequent public debt. The exact opposite is in fact the case. The crash happened because of dangerously high levels of private debt (a mortgage crisis specifically). And - this is the part we are not supposed to talk about—there is an inverse relation between public and private debt levels.

If the public sector reduces its debt, overall private sector debt goes up. That's what happened in the years leading up to 2008. Now austerity is making it happening again. And if we don't do something about it, the results will, inevitably, be another catastrophe.

The winners and losers of debt

These graphs show the relationship between public and private debt. They are both forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility, produced in 2015 and 2017. 

This is what the OBR was projecting what would happen around now back in 2015:

This year the OBR completely changed its forecast. This is how it now projects things are likely to turn out:

First, notice how both diagrams are symmetrical. What happens on top (that part of the economy that is in surplus) precisely mirrors what happens in the bottom (that part of the economy that is in deficit). This is called an “accounting identity.”

As in any ledger sheet, credits and debits have to match. The easiest way to understand this is to imagine there are just two actors, government, and the private sector. If the government borrows £100, and spends it, then the government has a debt of £100. But by spending, it has injected £100 more pounds into the private economy. In other words, -£100 for the government, +£100 for everyone else in the diagram. 

Similarly, if the government taxes someone for £100 , then the government is £100 richer but there’s £100 subtracted from the private economy (+£100 for government, -£100 for everybody else on the diagram).

So what implications does this kind of bookkeeping have for the overall economy? It means that if the government goes into surplus, then everyone else has to go into debt.

We tend to think of money as if it is a bunch of poker chips already lying around, but that’s not how it really works. Money has to be created. And money is created when banks make loans. Either the government borrows money and injects it into the economy, or private citizens borrow money from banks. Those banks don’t take the money from people’s savings or anywhere else, they just make it up. Anyone can write an IOU. But only banks are allowed to issue IOUs that the government will accept in payment for taxes. (In other words, there actually is a magic money tree. But only banks are allowed to use it.)

There are other factors. The UK has a huge trade deficit (blue), and that means the government (yellow) also has to run a deficit (print money, or more accurately, get banks to do it) to inject into the economy to pay for all those Chinese trainers, American iPads, and German cars. The total amount of money can also fluctuate. But the real point here is, the less the government is in debt, the more everyone else must be. Austerity measures will necessarily lead to rising levels of private debt. And this is exactly what has happened.

Now, if this seems to have very little to do with the way politicians talk about such matters, there's a simple reason: most politicians don’t actually know any of this. A recent survey showed 90 per cent of MPs don't even understand where money comes from (they think it's issued by the Royal Mint). In reality, debt is money. If no one owed anyone anything at all there would be no money and the economy would grind to a halt.

But of course debt has to be owed to someone. These charts show who owes what to whom.

The crisis in private debt

Bearing all this in mind, let's look at those diagrams again - keeping our eye particularly on the dark blue that represents household debt. In the first, 2015 version, the OBR duly noted that there was a substantial build-up of household debt in the years leading up to the crash of 2008. This is significant because it was the first time in British history that total household debts were higher than total household savings, and therefore the household sector itself was in deficit territory. (Corporations, at the same time, were raking in enormous profits.) But it also predicted this wouldn't happen again.

True, the OBR observed, austerity and the reduction of government deficits meant private debt levels would have to go up. However, the OBR economists insisted this wouldn't be a problem because the burden would fall not on households but on corporations. Business-friendly Tory policies would, they insisted, inspire a boom in corporate expansion, which would mean frenzied corporate borrowing (that huge red bulge below the line in the first diagram, which was supposed to eventually replace government deficits entirely). Ordinary households would have little or nothing to worry about.

This was total fantasy. No such frenzied boom took place.

In the second diagram, two years later, the OBR is forced to acknowledge this. Corporations are just raking in the profits and sitting on them. The household sector, on the other hand, is a rolling catastrophe. Austerity has meant falling wages, less government spending on social services (or anything else), and higher de facto taxes. This puts the squeeze on household budgets and people are forced to borrow. As a result, not only are households in overall deficit for the second time in British history, the situation is actually worse than it was in the years leading up to 2008.

And remember: it was a mortgage crisis that set off the 2008 crash, which almost destroyed the world economy and plunged millions into penury. Not a crisis in public debt. A crisis in private debt.

An inquiry

In 2015, around the time the original OBR predictions came out, I wrote an essay in the Guardian predicting that austerity and budget-balancing would create a disastrous crisis in private debt. Now it's so clearly, unmistakably, happening that even the OBR cannot deny it.

I believe the time has come for there be a public investigation - a formal public inquiry, in fact - into how this could be allowed to happen. After the 2008 crash, at least the economists in Treasury and the Bank of England could plausibly claim they hadn't completely understood the relation between private debt and financial instability. Now they simply have no excuse.

What on earth is an institution called the “Office for Budget Responsibility” credulously imagining corporate borrowing binges in order to suggest the government will balance the budget to no ill effects? How responsible is that? Even the second chart is extremely odd. Up to 2017, the top and bottom of the diagram are exact mirrors of one another, as they ought to be. However, in the projected future after 2017, the section below the line is much smaller than the section above, apparently seriously understating the amount both of future government, and future private, debt. In other words, the numbers don't add up.

The OBR told the New Statesman ​that it was not aware of any errors in its 2015 forecast for corporate sector net lending, and that the forecast was based on the available data. It said the forecast for business investment has been revised down because of the uncertainty created by Brexit. 

Still, if the “Office of Budget Responsibility” was true to its name, it should be sounding off the alarm bells right about now. So far all we've got is one mention of private debt and a mild warning about the rise of personal debt from the Bank of England, which did not however connect the problem to austerity, and one fairly strong statement from a maverick columnist in the Daily Mail. Otherwise, silence. 

The only plausible explanation is that institutions like the Treasury, OBR, and to a degree as well the Bank of England can't, by definition, warn against the dangers of austerity, however alarming the situation, because they have been set up the way they have in order to justify austerity. It's important to emphasise that most professional economists have never supported Conservative policies in this regard. The policy was adopted because it was convenient to politicians; institutions were set up in order to support it; economists were hired in order to come up with arguments for austerity, rather than to judge whether it would be a good idea. At present, this situation has led us to the brink of disaster.

The last time there was a financial crash, the Queen famously asked: why was no one able to foresee this? We now have the tools. Perhaps the most important task for a public inquiry will be to finally ask: what is the real purpose of the institutions that are supposed to foresee such matters, to what degree have they been politicised, and what would it take to turn them back into institutions that can at least inform us if we're staring into the lights of an oncoming train?