Is this social enterprise? Stripping for charity

Here in New York, one of the controversial issues of the day is a proposed new tax on strip bars and erotic dance clubs. Patrons would be required to pay a $10 admission surcharge, with proceeds ostensibly going to help "victims of human trafficking, domestic violence, sexual abuse and child prostitution."

Levying a sin tax to fund public benefit initiatives is not new--it's one reason why efforts to ban alcohol and cigarettes are doomed to fail, and in this time of financial crisis the practice may help bring about the decriminalization of marijuana. However, governments are not the only corporate entities that utilize this tactic--consider private sector carbon offsets, for example, which function as an informal tax to fund sustainable production.

Whatever one's personal values, taxing certain behavior to promote its alleged opposite raises intriguing questions about social enterprise and the morality of exchange. Does taxing strip clubs transform them into de facto social ventures? Are initiatives such as Virgin Mobile's Strip2Clothe campaign and Maria Carolina's sex-for-charity auction socially responsible? Are unsustainable business practices appropriate means to leverage for green business initiatives? Such questions are likely to become even more relevant as the financial crisis leads people in the public service realm to look for alternate sources of financial support.