Yes, this post is about the Economics of female breasts. It is inspired by are recent Times article on how young females act strategically to extract more and more from publishers as they reveal in successive photo sessions more and more their breasts. Once they have all uncovered, the market price drops markedly for any subsequent session.
What happens here is reminiscent of the ratchet effect of Regulatory Economics: in a principal-agent problem where a regulating principal tries to figure out the cost structure of the regulated agent. Any information that the agent provides is valuable to the principal only when revealed for the first time only, and it is irreversible. Thus agents try to extract some rent from principals in exchange of this information.
Going back to female breasts, it appears from the Times article that the women in question are participating willingly and knowingly in this game. They are in for the money, the glamor or whatever else. The article also relates how they are attracted by stars and seek them from their own will. The article also relates that some others find this "circus" very troubling, that it is degrading women, that this is not what the female emancipation was all about. Thus it should be prohibited.
Let us get back to Economics. Laws or constitutions typically protect you from sexual harassment. This is typically an inalienable right. Now what if you were willing to give this right up against money? You do this knowingly, after weighing the pros and the cons. Why would you not be allowed to sell this right? This is exactly the question that Kaushik Basu has asked. His response is that there are circumstances where this right should not be sold: while a worker may prefer a job with sexual harassment when given the choice, she may prefer even more an environment where sexual harassment is not possible because the wage would only slightly lower, but higher than a wage without sexual harassment (when it is a choice). It is really an argument about how the fact that there is an option reduces the value of the option. Al Roth concurs on an other dimension: some activities are so repugnant to others that they should be banned. I would prefer them to be discouraged, say, by having dwarf tossing events pay a special fee. Or gambling, horse meat, and obscene words. Or prostitutes.
We have now drifted all the way to prostitution: if both parties to a transaction are willing parties, why should this transaction be prohibited? (note the "if"). Is it that because such transactions have adverse impacts elsewhere? I may imagine it could render marriages less stable (or the opposite...), it could project a certain image on other women, etc. But I think we need to think really hard before prohibiting a transaction. In particular, we need to think beyond the projection of our own values onto others. We need to think rather in Coasian terms: if I want to engage in prostitution, then I should compensate those hurt by this in such a way that we find a Pareto improvement: everyone is better off.