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The Creative Destruction of Nudity in Playboy Magazine

Playboy has finally found a new way to shock and titillate America.

The magazine has announced that it will no longer feature full nudity. Instead, it will be moving toward a partially clad, cheesecake pin-up style.

The desire for pictures of fresh-faced girls next door — filled by Playboy in ersatz and airbrushed fashion — is, presumably, easily filled by the actual girls next door on Snapchat and Tinder.

When I heard the news, I immediately wondered what the great economist Joseph Schumpeter would have made of it. Schumpeter, who famously sought to become the world’s greatest economist, lover, and horseman — and admitted to failure only when it came to horses — would surely have followed the news from Playboy with interest.

But Schumpeter’s interest would have been as professional as it was prurient. As Michael Miller reports in the Washington Post,

By routinizing provocative images of naked women, Playboy inevitably created a market for its own rivals. In the 1970s, the magazine went head to head with newcomer Penthouse, whose more graphic female nudity pushed Playboy to become more extreme as well…. Playboy eventually toned down its photos in an attempt to re-establish its “girl next door” reputation, but the company would face even stiffer competition with the rise of the Internet. Suddenly, graphic porn wasn’t just available online. It was free. Playboy’s circulation, which had peaked at 5.6 million in 1975, plummeted to its present tally of 800,000.

The disappearance of full nudity from Playboy magazine is, in other words, a perfect example of Schumpeter’s concept of creative destruction. Schumpeter wrote that the “essential fact about capitalism” is creat…

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