Chris Blattman

Protectionism via prostitution

Given the choice between their own scratchy wool and the Indians’ smooth cotton, the conquistadors threw away their clothes and donned native clothing. Later, this preference was mirrored in Europe.

When cotton became readily available there in the eighteenth century, it grabbed so much of the textile market that the French woolmakers persuaded the government to ban the new fiber. The law failed to stem the cotton tide.

As the historian Ferdinand Braudel noted, some woolmakers then thought outside the box: they proposed sending prostitutes in cotton clothing to wander Paris streets, where police would publicly strip them naked. In theory the Bourgeois women would then avoid cotton for fear of being mistaken for prostitutes and forcibly disrobed. This novel form of protectionism was never put into place.

Found on the back of the new issue of JPE. The quote is from Charles Mann’s 1491.

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