Thursday, March 20, 2008

Semi-Occasional Daily Deliberation #9

Ex-governor Spitzer, who brought "crash and burn" to a whole new level, has made this a fine time to ask:
  • Why is prostitution illegal, while pornography is legal?
  • For that matter, why is prostitution illegal in the first place?
  • Momentarily putting aside the fact I am married, if I was to chat up a woman in the hotel bar and invite her to my room, I would have every reason to anticipate rejection, but none to fear arrest.

    Even if I made that offer to an undercover vice-cop.

    However, if I appended the words "perhaps $300 would make it worth your while," I would be in cuffs faster than the back of Mrs. Spitzer's hand met his face on learning about his special friend.

    Unless I had the foresight to put a video camera in my pocket.

    So, if a woman gives it up for free, or for the silver screen, that's OK. But doing the same thing for a little green is a crime.

    That needs 'splaining.

    24 Comments:

    Blogger Duck said...

    Well, if its the asymmetry that offends you, you could also ask "why is pornography legal". But I won't open that argument.

    Prostitution is illegal because it is an activity that degrades the social fabric. Whether you think that preserving the social fabric is a proper role of government is debatable, but I don't think that the fact that prostitution degrades it is debatable.

    Now I'm not for government trying to engineer perfect social fabric. That only leads to tyranny and totalitarianism. Society, like any living organism, has to be able to sustain itself of its own resources. A society that relies on government that regulates every aspect of social life is akin to a hothouse flower that could never live in the wild. But government is itself a response by society to regulate itself.

    You answered your own question by your comment "Momentarily putting aside the fact I am married". You are married, and for the vast majority of human history the vast majority of men have been married. Prostitution didn't develop to service an underserved market of lonely, unmarried men. It serves the promiscuous desires of mostly married men.

    The AIDS virus has spread in Africa largely by married long haul truckers who frequented prostitutes along their route and then brought the virus home to infect their wives and children.

    March 21, 2008 2:06 AM  
    Blogger Hey Skipper said...

    Duck:

    Well, if its the asymmetry that offends you, you could also ask "why is pornography legal". But I won't open that argument.

    By the very nature of asymmetry, I am asking both questions. So by all means, open away.

    Prostitution is illegal because it is an activity that degrades the social fabric.

    That is one of those assertions that gets tossed onto the table as if its truth is unassailable. However, does it really "degrade" the social fabric? Certainly in its currently, criminalized, form it does. But, what if prostitution was legal, regulated, and taxed? We get along with all kinds of things that would degrade the social fabric were it not for those things.

    Landfills, for instance.

    I don't see why prostitution intrinsically degrades the social fabric, any more than pornography does; in fact, it is hard to ascertain in what way, other than offending some people, how pornography "degrades" the social fabric.

    What I am for is government that keeps its nose out of places where its nose does not really belong.

    What a woman does with her body is clearly her business. Unless the very same act is in return for money. Why is that not an unwarranted intrusion on her freedom?

    You answered your own question by your comment "Momentarily putting aside the fact I am married". You are married, and for the vast majority of human history the vast majority of men have been married.

    No, I didn't. I added that for two reasons. First, to ensure the reader I was dealing with a hypothetical.

    And, second, to highlight the arbitrariness of prohibition. The act is the same, regardless of whether money changed hands. Why is it OK (legally) on one hand, but not the other? Okay, my being married makes it wrong from the git go. But if I was still single, would it then be OK?

    March 21, 2008 4:16 AM  
    Blogger Ali said...

    It's legal in the Netherlands, Germany and Nevada. The Netherlands has seen a big rise in the trafficking of sex slaves from Eastern Europe and child prostitution has increased quite a lot in Nevada. Cologne has a pretty comprehensive scheme for managing sex worker safety but less than ten percent of the prostitute population makes use of it. The second and third-order effects of legalisation.

    Beyond that it's not an occupation that should be given any sort of social approval.

    "Yet the evidence is overwhelming that, in the United States, prostitution is only very rarely just another career choice. Studies suggest that up to two-thirds of prostitutes have been sexually abused as girls, a majority have drug dependencies or mental illnesses, one-third have been threatened with death by pimps, and almost half have attempted suicide.

    Melissa Farley, a psychologist who has written extensively about the subject, says that girls typically become prostitutes at age 13 or 14. She conducted a study finding that 89 percent of prostitutes urgently wanted to escape the work, and that two-thirds have post-traumatic stress disorder — not a problem for even the most frustrated burger-flipper.

    The mortality data for prostitutes is staggering. The American Journal of Epidemiology published a meticulous study finding that the “workplace homicide rate for prostitutes” is 51 times that of the next most dangerous occupation for women, working in a liquor store. The average age of death of the prostitutes in the study was 34.

    “Women engaged in prostitution face the most dangerous occupational environment in the United States,” The Journal concluded."

    And another article from the Guardian on the pitfalls of legalisation.

    March 21, 2008 7:21 AM  
    Blogger Ali said...

    edit:

    The second and third-order effects of legalisation obviously need to be borne in mind.

    March 21, 2008 7:22 AM  
    Blogger lonbud said...

    ...for the vast majority of human history the vast majority of men have been married.

    Um, not. Unless one subscribes to the notion that 'human history' is only several thousand years extant.

    And even in that case, I'm not so sure it's true. The number of married men is not a 'vast majority' of the men in America today, for example; it's a little over half, according to the 2000 census.

    My personal feeling on this is that what consenting adults choose to do with one another, and whether or not they choose to make a financial transaction in the bargain, is not a proper realm for government.

    March 21, 2008 11:24 AM  
    Blogger Harry Eagar said...

    Good post, Ali.

    Before you can get to Skipper's question, you need to answer another:

    Are women (or men) choosing to be prostitutes according to a rational economic assessment, or is this, in some sense, compulsory?

    Depends, but historically prostitution has usually been a form of slavery. The clearest-eyed historical work I know about this is 'Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens,' by James Davidson.

    I know prostitutes of both kinds.

    Although they are not, nominally, prostitutes, just a kind of sex worker who doesn't go all the way, the bar hostesses in my county that I have interviewed are all in a kind of debt-peonage to the mama-sans.

    In fact, these women are an interesting example of both. They used to all be Koreans although Vietnamese are taking over.

    All the ones I've interviewed got to America by marrying GIs, then divorcing them once they got here.

    Their choice then was, as Ali suggests, sex of a kind or burger-flipping.

    The hostess trade looked better, although it's clear to me that over even the medium-short term burger flipping grosses more money.

    There appears to be a nationwide market for these women. One told me she was bought for $8,000 -- in form, a labor contract, but now she can't move to a better place till she pays off her mama-san.

    March 21, 2008 11:35 AM  
    Blogger Duck said...

    That is one of those assertions that gets tossed onto the table as if its truth is unassailable. However, does it really "degrade" the social fabric? Certainly in its currently, criminalized, form it does. But, what if prostitution was legal, regulated, and taxed? We get along with all kinds of things that would degrade the social fabric were it not for those things.

    True, but the lure of this kind of thinking is imagining that most of the demand for illegal prostitution would be satisfied within the boundaries in which a legal form of prostitution would need to operate, at least in a "civilized" society like ours. You would have to agree to some legal protections for the women, to ensure that they weren't being exploited, wouldn't you? Such as being of adult age, of sound enough mental and emotional state to make an informed voluntary decision to enter this line of work. Should drug addicts be allowed to enter the trade? What about women with a history of physical and sexual abuse as children?

    Even if you ensure all that, you will not curb the demand for the illegal trade that would fall outside those boundaries. For most Johns prostitution isn't about having a mutually pleasing, respectful sexual experience with an adult woman. Its largely about a desire for girls, not women. Underage girls, and boys. And for extreme and degrading sex acts, acts that only an abused or psychologically broken girl or woman would perform. A legalized consensual sex trade won't diminish this side of the industry. It would probably just feed it more demand. The legal trade could just be the "gateway" for the more extreme illegal trade. It looks like that's the case in the Netherlands.

    March 22, 2008 8:01 AM  
    Blogger David said...

    Well, the reason pornography is legal is the First Amendment. The reason that it's "legal" for you and an adult woman to go up to your hotel room is a combination of culture and penumbras emanating from the Bill of Rights. Fornication and adultery used to be a crimes in just about every state and the crime is still on the books in a lot of states. From the Illinois criminal code:

    Sec. 11‑8. Fornication.) (a) Any person who has sexual intercourse with another not his spouse commits fornication if the behavior is open and notorious.
    A person shall be exempt from prosecution under this Section if his liability is based solely on evidence he has given in order to comply with the requirements of Section 4‑1.7 of "The Illinois Public Aid Code", approved April 11, 1967, as amended.
    (b) Sentence.
    Fornication is a Class B misdemeanor.


    Any prosecution under the statutes today would be unconstitutional.

    There is an interesting class of crimes (I think Richard Posner has written about this) that make it illegal to do for money what it is legal to do for free. Prostitution is one, extortion is another. I'm free to keep to myself scandalous information I know about you. I'm free to publish it. I can't, though, charge you for not publishing it. Oddly, we don't see houses of extortion where men slink off to pay someone not to tattle on them.

    March 22, 2008 9:40 AM  
    Blogger Harry Eagar said...

    Yeah, but fornication and prostitution are not even remotely parallel.

    In one case, both want to do it.

    In the other, one would (we assume) prefer to be anywhere else.

    March 22, 2008 11:07 AM  
    Blogger Hey Skipper said...

    Ali:

    It's legal in the Netherlands, Germany and Nevada. The Netherlands has seen a big rise in the trafficking of sex slaves from Eastern Europe ...

    Do you by any chance read The Economist?

    Unfortunately, that litany of facts -- which I have no particular reason to doubt -- is an excellent example of what could well be post hoc reasoning.

    For example: what else has happened in Europe besides the legalization of prostitution in several countries? Well, the collapse of socialism and the subsequent turmoil, for one.

    Take the analysis one step further. Has sex slavery also increased in countries where prostitution is still illegal? If so, then the citation merely identifies a common-mode problem. Worse, to the extent that legalization makes the likelihood of discovering related, but still illegal, activities more likely, then prohibition serves only to encourage bliss through ignorance.

    Never mind post hoc and common mode objections, though. One should still be left flummoxed when trying to determine how an illegal activity -- sex slavery -- would flourish when a legal counterpart is available. That would be akin, if true, to observing an increase in bootlegging after ending Prohibition in the US.

    Beyond that it's not an occupation that should be given any sort of social approval.

    There is no better way to blanche personal freedom than to put it in thrall to social approval. Freedom of speech, for just one example, is vacuous under that constraint.

    The question here is not whether society should approve of prostitution, but whether the decision to engage in prostitution should risk incurring the wrath of the legal system.

    A situation which, of course, entails its own second- and third-order effects.

    +++

    The article you cite is compelling, but not necessarily in the way you, or the article's protagonist intend. First, the situations described did not constitute legalization, but rather "toleration" of an activity still illegal. That is nowhere near legalize, regulate, and tax. Street prostitution is dangerous, full stop. However, there is no reason that legalized prostitution should include street-walking. Why should it? Would society tolerate street-walking for casual, unremunerated sex, despite its being otherwise legal?

    Additionally, some parts of the article simply beggar belief:

    The road closure had been put in place to solve the chronic problem of street prostitution in the area by cutting off kerb crawlers' access. When it first started "there were 260 women working on the streets", says Matthews. "Two years later, there were only 10 or 20. People would say to me, 'But the women will just move on to other areas to work', but they were wrong. Most of them appeared to get out for good.

    I call shenanigans.

    And other parts are incohorent:

    Women working in legal brothels in Nevada, for example, have spoken about how prostitution under such a regime feels like "legalised rape", and that no laws can remove the stigma of selling sex.

    Of course laws cannot do that.

    Nor can laws stop child abuse, drug addiction, or to the staggering inability to look any further ahead than today.

    Those same laws also have no impact on a woman's decision whether the stigma is sufficient stimulus to look for a different line of work.

    +++

    Harry:

    Are women (or men) choosing to be prostitutes according to a rational economic assessment, or is this, in some sense, compulsory?

    Indentured servitude is an issue independent of the activity. Captive illegal immigrants have been found sewing clothes in Los Angeles.

    In the other, one would (we assume) prefer to be anywhere else.

    I take that to mean you would make illegal any job one hated.

    +++

    Duck:

    You would have to agree to some legal protections for the women, to ensure that they weren't being exploited, wouldn't you? Such as being of adult age, of sound enough mental and emotional state to make an informed voluntary decision to enter this line of work. Should drug addicts be allowed to enter the trade? What about women with a history of physical and sexual abuse as children?

    As opposed to what other line of work?

    And you still haven't even begun to touch the dichotomy between pornography and prostitution.

    Also laying on the table is the very real likelihood that prohibition, by making all sex acts for money not performed in front of a camera illegal, acts to shield the very things you find most abhorrent about the activity in the first place.

    Underage sex is illegal no matter the context; combating it is not helped by diverting police resources to prosecute those whose acts would be legal absent both an exchange of money and a camera.

    +++

    David:

    I'm not sure I understand your invocation of extortion as a crime that is legal when free, but a crime when done for money (or any other consideration).

    Since extortion is inherently a quid pro quo, the absence of a quo means that whatever is going on, extortion can't be it.

    For good or ill, I suspect that many acts that used to be crimes, but are no longer, belong to an expanding class of activities that society, without any endorsement, no longer believes to be within the purview of criminal sanction.

    Not many people approve of adultery. Not many would approve of the government intrusion required to police adultery.

    So why is it that the state prohibits among adults acts for money that are legal when done free, or in front of a camera? For that matter, is "expression" impossible for a sex act performed in the absence of a camera?

    That seems odd. Freedom of speech doesn't seem dependent upon the presence of microphones ...

    +++

    lonbud:

    ... what consenting adults choose to do with one another, and whether or not they choose to make a financial transaction in the bargain, is not a proper realm for government.

    I guess I'm with you on this one.

    March 23, 2008 10:23 PM  
    Blogger Susan's Husband said...

    "My personal feeling on this is that what consenting adults choose to do with one another, and whether or not they choose to make a financial transaction in the bargain, is not a proper realm for government."

    Wow, lonbud is a hard core free marketer! I never even suspected. So if I want to hire an 18 year old to sew clothes for $1.50 / hour, that's OK? We're consenting adults, after all, and therefore it's not the proper realm of the government to interfere.

    March 24, 2008 5:56 AM  
    Blogger Peter Burnet said...

    ... what consenting adults choose to do with one another, and whether or not they choose to make a financial transaction in the bargain, is not a proper realm for government.

    Provided, of course, the transaction involves someone else's daughter.

    March 24, 2008 6:34 AM  
    Blogger joe shropshire said...

    And your wife doesn't find out about it.

    March 24, 2008 4:26 PM  
    Blogger Peter Burnet said...

    And your transaction partner keeps it all a big secrret.

    March 24, 2008 5:38 PM  
    Blogger Duck said...

    Should drug addicts be allowed to enter the trade? What about women with a history of physical and sexual abuse as children?

    As opposed to what other line of work?

    A line of work that won't further degrade them or make their mental and emotional health even worse?

    And you still haven't even begun to touch the dichotomy between pornography and prostitution.

    OK, I will at least win points with your love of symmetry. I am all in favor of banning hard core pornography, meaning the filming of actual sex acts for sale.

    Underage sex is illegal no matter the context; combating it is not helped by diverting police resources to prosecute those whose acts would be legal absent both an exchange of money and a camera.

    Except that the sellers of overage flesh are usually the same ones dealing the underage flesh. Most prostitutes enter the business as teenage girls. Legalizing adult prostitution wouldn't free up resources, it would bury even more resources into regulation of the industry to ensure the health and safety of the women, to limit the spread of disease, to make sure that the dealers are abiding by all the rules of a "civilized" trade that I alluded to above.

    The pornography and prostitution industries feed each other. Men desensitized to violent, degrading sex through hard core pornography will want to enact those violent, degrading fantasies in real life. One of the less proud moments of my experience as a Marine was listening to the wild tales of sexual debauchery from Marines who had been in duty stations overseas where the locals provided a ready-made sex industry for foreign military personnel. Subic Bay, Phillipines was a much desired duty station for many Marines, because of its wide open sex trade. It shocked me to realize that many of the stories I heard, even from senior officers, were about sex with teenage girls. It doesn't take much to legitimize this kind of activity in the minds of what you would assume are normal, upstanding, responsible men.

    March 24, 2008 6:47 PM  
    Blogger Hey Skipper said...

    Duck:

    A line of work that won't further degrade them or make their mental and emotional health even worse?

    Interesting. Now you have set yourself the task of determining who is compos mentis.

    Okay, fine. Let's say you can do that. On what basis do you tell those (for instance, ex-Gov Spitzer's "escort") who pass your test, yet decide they prefer money for sex, that they may have sex, but they may not have money for it?

    Okay fine, part II. It seems surpassing odd that you put the power of the state behind deciding whether someone may participate in a emunerated activity only if it doesn't make their mental health worse.

    On that score, post offices across the country would be emptied of employees.

    I am all in favor of banning hard core pornography, meaning the filming of actual sex acts for sale.

    Why? Because of the manifest ill effects upon society (to substantiate that position, you had best be able to find some ill that has become iller at the same rate the internet has made pornography available to whomever, whenever, at cut rate prices), or simply because you it injures your sensibilities?

    Legalizing adult prostitution wouldn't free up resources, it would bury even more resources into regulation of the industry to ensure the health and safety of the women, to limit the spread of disease, to make sure that the dealers are abiding by all the rules of a "civilized" trade that I alluded to above.

    Yeah, I guess you are right. Better none of that happen; serves them right to be sick, in danger,and spreading disease.

    Oh, BTW, the resources of which you speak would not be law enforcement's.

    Men desensitized to violent, degrading sex through hard core pornography will want to enact those violent, degrading fantasies in real life.

    That is precisely the blank slate thinking upon which the Left so heavily relies.

    Additionally, the deductive consequence of your assertion hard core pornography creates the desire to enact violent, degrading, fantasies is that there must have been a dizzying increase in those acts in real life that parallels the explosion of internet delivered pornography.

    I'll bet you can't find it.

    Just as I'll bet those Marines of which you speak would have been enamored of teenage girls, porn or not.


    Criminalizing activities that are otherwise legal, except for a monetary transaction, is a godsend for organized crime, and paints the women into a corner.

    That should be worth taking into account.

    March 24, 2008 10:26 PM  
    Blogger lonbud said...

    So if I want to hire an 18 year old to sew clothes for $1.50 / hour, that's OK? We're consenting adults, after all, and therefore it's not the proper realm of the government to interfere.

    Not quite AOG, but nice try.

    The context of the discussion is criminalizing certain sex acts performed for money, while allowing others the imprimatur of legality.

    We've already decided in the employment context generally that paying someone $1.50/hr to sew clothes is illegal, that in fact it's a crime to pay someone but $1.50/hr to do anything.

    If I was your escort and you tried to pay me $1.50/hr I'd report you to the Labor Dept. in a heartbeat.

    March 24, 2008 11:32 PM  
    Blogger Susan's Husband said...

    So then, lonbud, you agree with the prostitution banners, that remuneration makes an activity the government's business?

    You might also consider that currently, in the employment context, a boss having sex with an employee is sexual harassment. Does that mean if you were my escort and I asked for sex, you'd report me to the Labor Department? It would put a bit of a damper on the prostitution, I would think.

    March 25, 2008 3:46 AM  
    Blogger lonbud said...

    AOG: I feel like you're trying to put words in my mouth.

    I thought I was pretty clear that I don't believe it's a proper function of government to criminalize prostitution.

    As you might imagine, however, I believe effective regulation of the sex worker industry would benefit (and protect) producers, consumers, and society in general, in addition to creating a robust revenue center that could pay for monitoring and enforcing the regulations and, in all likelihood leave something over for spending on education, health care, infrastructure, or remedying the occasional greed-induced financial meltdown.

    Kinda like the Adventure in Iraq was supposed to pay for itself, remember?

    But I digress.

    As to sexual harassment in the employment context, I believe the standard is unwanted contact, attention, or creating an oppressive work atmosphere.

    You can't, as my employee, pursue an infatuation with me and then turn around and collect damages for sexual harassment.

    Though, you can try, and many do, which is why the prudent boss will terminate the comely employee prior to pursuing a dalliance.

    March 25, 2008 8:25 AM  
    Blogger Harry Eagar said...

    'One should still be left flummoxed when trying to determine how an illegal activity -- sex slavery -- would flourish when a legal counterpart is available. That would be akin, if true, to observing an increase in bootlegging after ending Prohibition in the US.'

    Yet bootlegging did flourish after the Volstead Act was repealed, and the Dutch were flummoxed to discover that, after they made free, government-guaranteed heroin available to addicts, there was still a street trade in unsafe and illegal heroin.

    That's because in these areas (prostitution, mind-altering substances), the motivating factors are not always or only money.

    The Spitzer case demonstrated this pretty clearly, although in all the miles of commentary, I haven't seen anyone else mention it. So I will.

    In many instances, the sex act that is paid for is a lot less satisfying than the john could get at home or from a bar pickup. A minute or two of pure mechanical friction.

    So why do they pay for inferior goods when they can get better cheap or free? Probably what they're after is the thrill of doing something illicit. (I had a colleague who was addicted to gambling. He told me he wasn't interested in winning, only in the rush of anticipation before the cards fell. He was a drug addict, too.)

    Or, or in combination with, feelings of power, of being able to order a woman to do things that the john would be embarrassed to order or ask of his wife.

    While, at the other end, paradoxically, it seems to me that some prostitutes get pleasure from controlling the johns. Recall how Kirsten said something about how when Spitzer asked for something dangerous, she knew how to control him?

    I have interviewed more bar hostesses (nominally not prostitutes) than prostitutes, but their manipulation and controlling behavior is honed to a fine point.
    (Burlesque was like that, too. Men kept going to the shows even though after the first one they knew that, in fact, they were not going to see Gypsy Rose Lee take it all off.)

    I think treating prostitution as a pure economic play is mistaken. Although, it is a game that the pure cynic can play for purely monetary gain, just as drug-dealing is. But you don't see that many drug dealers who don't eventually sample their own stuff.

    March 25, 2008 9:42 AM  
    Blogger Duck said...

    Okay, fine. Let's say you can do that. On what basis do you tell those (for instance, ex-Gov Spitzer's "escort") who pass your test, yet decide they prefer money for sex, that they may have sex, but they may not have money for it?

    On what basis do we tell people they can't buy, sell or use cocaine? On the basis of democratically enacted legislation founded upon a constitution and bill of rights that does not recognize either an inalienable right to use dangerous drugs or to engage in sex for pay.

    That is precisely the blank slate thinking upon which the Left so heavily relies.
    ..
    Just as I'll bet those Marines of which you speak would have been enamored of teenage girls, porn or not.


    Not blank-slate thinking at all, as your second sentence alludes to. Desiring sex with teenage girls is in the male software. That's the path of least resistance. We need laws and taboos to counteract this aspect of male human nature.

    The difference between the Marines I admired and the ones I didn't isn't that one desired teenage girls and the other didn't, its that one knew acting on that desire was wrong (in an environment where the local law did not forbid it) and the other didn't.

    March 25, 2008 6:39 PM  
    Blogger Ali said...

    "Do you by any chance read The Economist?"

    I do. It puzzles me that they advocate legalisation and regulation of the drugs and sex trade given how frequently they point out examples of government failure.

    "Never mind post hoc and common mode objections, though. One should still be left flummoxed when trying to determine how an illegal activity -- sex slavery -- would flourish when a legal counterpart is available. That would be akin, if true, to observing an increase in bootlegging after ending Prohibition in the US."

    There has been a big rise in incidents of sexual assault and rape in Camden, London since a number of lap-dancing clubs opened up. It would appear that lap-dancing and prostitution don't act as a release-valve for such aberrant behaviour, but rather set off positive feedback loops.

    "There is no better way to blanche personal freedom than to put it in thrall to social approval. Freedom of speech, for just one example, is vacuous under that constraint."

    Freedom has to exist in a balance with order and justice for any society to survive. The externalities of prostitution are too damaging to justify legalisation even if it means losing the freedom to pay for sex.

    "The question here is not whether society should approve of prostitution, but whether the decision to engage in prostitution should risk incurring the wrath of the legal system."

    Sweden seems to have a decent system whereby the sale of sex is not criminalised but the purchase of it is.

    +++

    "The article you cite is compelling, but not necessarily in the way you, or the article's protagonist intend. First, the situations described did not constitute legalization, but rather "toleration" of an activity still illegal. That is nowhere near legalize, regulate, and tax. Street prostitution is dangerous, full stop. However, there is no reason that legalized prostitution should include street-walking. Why should it?"

    So you're arguing for legalisation of prostitutes who can charge enough to cover hotel expenses?

    March 26, 2008 7:14 AM  
    Blogger Susan's Husband said...

    "One should still be left flummoxed when trying to determine how an illegal activity -- sex slavery -- would flourish when a legal counterpart is available."

    You mean the way sweat shops flourish despite the legality of the activity? I would think that a far closer analogy than bootlegging.

    March 26, 2008 9:41 AM  
    Blogger Hey Skipper said...

    Harry:

    Bootlegging continued after the repeal of Prohibition because taxation was (and, to a limited extend, still is) sufficient to cover the risk premium: i.e., taxation created a black market.

    Just as it does in states with extortionate cigarette taxes. Smoking is legal, but at such a high price that it creates an illegal black market.

    I am sure that some people do things that are transparently self-defeating for reasons having nothing to do with economics, or even any rational notion of self interest.

    However, unless you want to put government in the business of monitoring people's motivations, that is really beside the point, which remains this: why does remuneration, in and of itself, render an otherwise completely legal act illegal? So long, that is, as it occurs in the absence of a camera.

    Suggesting it is an undue intrusion on personal freedom to criminalize sex for money when sex for every other reason is legal is not tantamount to viewing prostitution as a pure economic play, any more than is purchasing a car -- there is no justifying a BMW on economic terms, something of which their marketers are very cynically aware.

    On what basis do we tell people they can't buy, sell or use cocaine?

    Well, yes, you are correct that we tell people that on the basis of democratically enacted legislation. Perhaps I should have more explicitly stated the problem: on what basis (other than reaction formation) do democratically elected legislatures criminalize sex when money is involved?

    Left completely unanswered is whether criminalizing prostitution, like criminalizing alcohol consumption, makes matters worse: police divert resources from crimes with real victims, and the most vulnerable women are painted into a square corner. I have an idea for helping a woman out of prostitution: giver her a criminal record.

    For the sake of staying on topic, I'll leave it for another time to consider whether our drug laws are, or not, a self-inflicted wound.


    Not blank-slate thinking at all, as your second sentence alludes to.

    To refresh, here is what I was replying to:

    Men desensitized to violent, degrading sex through hard core pornography will want to enact those violent, degrading fantasies in real life.

    IOW, Men are blank slates whose notions of sex will be the consequence of conditioning by violent, degrading sex. Pornography is cause, and the inability of being able to determine that having sex with underage women is the effect.

    All because men cannot distinguish between fantasy and reality.

    Heaven help us if they ever start watching the Simpsons.


    ali:

    I figured you read The Economist; I had just read the article containing the facts you cited when I wrote this post.

    It would appear that lap-dancing and prostitution don't act as a release-valve for such aberrant behaviour, but rather set off positive feedback loops.

    Alternative explanations abound.

    Such as: the concentration of lap-dancing in Camden resulted in a concentration of the sort of men who frequent dance clubs, who are also the same sort of men who are inclined towards sexual assault and rape. The overall incidence is unchanged, only the locale is different.

    The externalities of prostitution are too damaging to justify legalisation even if it means losing the freedom to pay for sex.

    Yet no one has tried to answer whether the externalities of criminalizing prostitution outweigh those of legalizing it. By all means criminalize the externalities. Just because consuming alcohol is legal doesn't mean drunk driving, or even drinking in public should be.

    Similarly, legalizing prostitution does not mean tolerating curb-crawling or sex in public places.

    Then there is the very real issue of personal freedom. A woman is free to have sex with whomever she chooses, but she may not choose to accept money for the act.

    Although, apparently, the price of dinner and drinks is OK.

    March 27, 2008 12:17 PM  

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