Quote of the day from Megan McArdle

of whom I’m normally not much of a fan… but in this case, I like:

Your gut is not a good replacement for reasoning from first principles.

She’s having an argument over prostitution, and its legality/morality, etc.  I tend to lean towards the “legalize it” end, though I admit that I’ve heard some GOOD counter-arguments.  There’s an active comments section if you’re interested.

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  1. Zathras

     /  March 14, 2008

    I’m not sure if there’s much a difference. First principles come mainly from the gut anyway.

  2. blackpine

     /  March 16, 2008

    It’s a hell of thing. It’s an army of straw men over there. I’ll probably post something over there in a sec, but I’ll marshal the thought here in first draft.

    First off, there is cause, mechanism, and effect. The cause of prostitution is a desire for sex, and a desire for control. A burn victim with no girlfriend desires sex. Spitzer with a wife and two children, probably wanted control. On the other hand, maybe the wife was withholding for years; I doubt it, who knows.

    Sex is healthy as a physiological, homeostatic need. You don’t get it, and you suffer a shorter, poorer life. So, it can maintain health. Likewise, wanting sex for the sake of sex isn’t bad, it’s natural. There are a lot of folks who are ignoring the fact that a man who simply wants sex isn’t a villain, he’s functional. There is also a lot of idealization of what sex should be, further reinforcing my dislike of over extended idealism.

    Control by way of money is evil. For a person to buy control over someone simply through money is a perverting influence, and doesn’t have to occur with sex to be seen as creepy. Take for instance, dancing. It would be kind of pathetic to see somebody paying a dancer to dance in front of them while they sat there cackling “More hips!” No sex, high creep. Control sex is usually not legal. Pedophelia, torture, and degradation are all forms of control sexuality.
    So, the market for prostitution is tied to two impulses that won’t go away. One of them is benign, the other is malignant. So legalizing prostitution will not eliminate all illegal prostitution, but it could separate the wheat from the chaff so to speak. A person who simply wants sex would have an outlet. A person who simply wants to provide sex would have protection and credentials because she is now able to go to the police without repercussions. Likewise, he/she would have the right to refuse service.

    The mechanism of prostitution is different. Pimps are where there is a disadvantaged woman. If prostitution is illegal, then the women can’t complain about pimps, and they can make money. Make it legal and some pimps go away, and other pimps simply sell unlicensed and unlicensable sex. Where prostitution is legal, human trafficking and control sex ride on the coattails.

    The effect has never been adequately tracked in terms of perceptions or impact on socially beneficial sexual patterns. I’m NOT SAYING that sex must be socially beneficial sex, but any successful society is built on a healthy sexual model i.e. parenthood and family. So, does prostitution diminish or negatively impact socially beneficial sexual models?

    Right now, I’m pro hooker and anti pimp. I would have to say that you could license a woman as a prostitute, but outlaw brothels as independent entities. In other words, only the participants can give their express consent to bargain for sex. No one else can negotiate on their behalf.

  3. I think prostitution should be legal, but I also think riding a motorcycle without a helmet (stupid), overdosing on heroin (sad), and signing up for a mortgage you can’t afford (foolhardy) should all be legal. Freedom is predicated not only on having the rope to hang yourself, but also on being allowed to use it.

  4. Happycrow

     /  March 17, 2008

    That government is best, which governs least, because its people discipline themselves?

  5. The legalization of prostitution would most likely cause a nasty boost in STIs.

    Jim- Your idea is good in theory, but look at China during the opium wars (specifically the heroin). I’m all for civil libertarianism, but our society is too stupid to handle making the majority of the decisions laws make for them.

  6. I would say that there are certain things wherein the mechanism intrinsic to the activity removes freedom. Drug addiction and pimp driven prostitution are two. And if someone set up a crack house next to mine, they are impacting me, even if the drugs are legal. So, I’d rather have a cop go in with a gun and shut the place down than me. He’s a pro with the right equipment and training provided by my taxes. I’m a guy with a revolver.

  7. Happycrow

     /  March 18, 2008

    On the other hand, there’s a difference between libertarianism and anarchy, too. I like having dedicated, professional enforcers.

    Reyna: if the average person is too stupid to make these calls… are those who make and enforce them by definition MORE wise?

  8. Theoretically they should be.

  9. happycrow

     /  March 18, 2008

    Ahh, but that wasn’t the question now, was it?

  10. You have to remember that these same arguments were used against alcohol during the prohibition era. You cannot use the RESULTS of prohibition to argue that a LACK of prohibition is a bad idea. Prohibition brought the idea of the “speakeasy” and the “moonshiner” as being popular ways to break the laws because people wanted to use certain items and the government, in its wisdom, knew better than all of the citizens of the country. If drugs were not under prohibition, and prostitution was not under prohibition, there would be no market need for things like “crack-houses.” Those are the modern versions of the old Speakeasy. They gather in these places because they cannot go to designated areas to partake in legal activities.

    For example, everyone predicted that when Amsterdam legalized prostitutes and marijuana that their country was going to fall into a cess-pool of depravity and corruption. It did not happen. Another well know example of how this works is in what happened after prohibition. The crime lords suffered and they had to look for other, prohibited activities in order to maintain a life of illegal profits.

    I would also point out that the industry that has been built out of going after drug users has filled our prisons to the point that, as of last month, the US (the beacon of freedom) has more prisoners than any other country on the entire planet. As a result, we not only have an illegal underground industry to support through fighting the “victim-less crime,” we also have a gigantic, multi-billion dollar legal industry of finding and imprisoning these people. These are all dollars that come out of your wallet on the local, state and federal levels.

    For myself, this boils down to a question of whether we want to have the individual take responsibility for their own personal decisions, or whether we want to have the Government take our decisions from us because we are incapable of making these decisions for ourselves. I would argue that if I make bad decisions, then it is I that should pay for them, and not you. If I want to lick an exotic frog to get high, then that should be my failure.

    To say that the common man or woman does not have the responsibility of their own life means that you, yourself, WANT the government to tell you what you can do or not do even if it does not hurt anyone else. Freedom has never been promoted as being a “safe” alternative, but I would rather take my chances and make my own decisions rather than have some set of morons in DC make my decisions for me.

  11. Happycrow

     /  March 18, 2008

    And there’s the rub. If regular folks are smart enough to make their own rules, they don’t need much government. If regular people are too dumb to take care of themselves, then they don’t get any better just because they’re making laws for everybody else, too…

  12. blackpine

     /  March 18, 2008

    “You cannot use the RESULTS of prohibition to argue that a LACK of prohibition is a bad idea.”

    I can. Prohibition removed a cultural and social tradition by overtaxing the police and requiring a type of cop that was so intrusive and overpowered, that it degraded both liberty and effective law enforcement for marginal gains in alcohol addiction and domestic violence. The cost/benefit analysis is against prohibition.

    With prostitution, you have three players. The customer, the prostitute and the provider. If all three are benign, then you are simply trading money for sex, and there is not really any harm.

    But, as I said before, the customer is not always benign. Pedophelia and rape are commodities that will never be legal, and will never go away as facets of prostitution.

    You mentioned Amsterdam. No, Amsterdam didn’t sink into the sea. But it is a hub and destination for human trafficking as few other cities are.


    Let’s look at Thailand. Pay particular attention to the use of the word “girls.”


    And because Thailand allows prostitution, it affects Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.


    and attracts guys like this…


    So, to have legal prostitution and reduce vice cops, you need to have more immigration cops and more border cops, plus inspections of legal prostitutes. In spite of that, you will still have an increased incidence of human trafficking than you would otherwise, because traffickers have an easier time hiding.

    On top of that, your neighbors have to have more cops, or the creep coefficient goes way up. So, arresting all prostitutes may not be the principled stand, but it may be the may to have fewer cops, fewer laws, and fewer operational creeps.

  13. blackpine

     /  March 19, 2008

    In short, I go back to the idea that there are things that reduce the liberty of people if allowed. No one lost their job and spent a week getting stoned and raped in a speakeasy. Likewise, a large number of prostitutes aren’t willing participants. Large numbers of women are tricked into it by job ads abroad, and you should also pay attention to the notices for missing children.

    My posts are getting eaten from my laptop. I had a slew of links about problems in places with legalized prostitution. Because there are three people involved in prostitution (buyer, seller, supplier) you have to make sure that they are all on the up and up. A lot of buyers want things that are illegal aside from the fact that it’s prostitution. So, for simply having vice cops,you have to have beefed up border cops, immigration cops, labor/business inspectors, and so on. Additionally, your neighbors have to have beefed up cops to handle spillover, and your creep coefficent goes up, too. Again, I had the links. If they have no cover, then the numbers are reduced.

    You can eliminate the cover for human trafficking by making prostitution illegal and effectively policing it.

  14. blackpine

     /  March 19, 2008

    Wow. It didn’t eat the post. I’m confuzzled.

  15. I do not think that the laws or the police have succeeded in stopping prostitution in any country or at any time since the dawn of man. The War on Drugs has not eliminated drug usage by filling our prisons more than any other country on the planet. Society is not going to stop the oldest profession by declaring it illegal and putting cops in our bedrooms. It is the oldest profession for a reason, and that is that people are more than willing to break the law to do it. Legalizing these kinds of activities has the net effect of placing MORE controls over the activity rather than less. In Amsterdam, for example, the legal prostitutes have to undergo medical exams from time to time, which benefits the health system as well as the participants in what is, I admit, a rather tasteless past-time.

    Likewise, legalizing alcohol did not in fact increase the numbers of alcoholics, but it did begin to bring tax revenues and the flow and quality of alcohol were placed under sensible restrictions.

    Notice that I never argued that freedom is safe or easy. What I posit is that freedom itself needs to be available for individuals to live as they please as long as it does not infringe on the rights or means of others to pursue their own happiness. Once we begin to take these things away, more and more other people will happily decide for you what it is that you need or do not need for your own happiness.

  16. blackpine

     /  March 19, 2008

    We may be talking past each other. I’m not saying that the outlawing it will stop it, but the thing I’m against isn’t prostitution itself. Trading money for sex isn’t a real problem. Human trafficking is. Where there is large amounts of prostitution, legal or not, you have a correspondingly large amount of human trafficking, and it’s harder to prevent.

    How would you structure prostitution so that human trafficking is reduced?

  17. Good point there.

    Firstly, when prostitution is legalized, if an organization is found with an underage prostitute, the place closes down and people go to jail. Like Amsterdam, all places in the red light district are subject to searches, and legal documents must be provided for everyone. (It is much the same as running the food industry, for example.) They all have to have health clearances and proof of citizenship and age.

    Secondly, making it legal for women of age to make money in this fashion takes a lot of pressure off of people “recruiting” for that business. Amsterdam has problems with this part of the equation, but I think a lot of that has to do with two other significant factors. Out of control immigration is one, and that would prove to be a problem here as well as there, but the problem in Europe is larger than ours, believe it or not. The other problem is that Amsterdam is cornered by several countries where the activity is illegal. As a result, people flock there from Germany and elsewhere, making the market a rather ludicrous enterprise. If a large number of states had legal prostitution, then the much larger populations involved would make the demand for prostitutes easier to fill and running the risk of long prison sentences would make less sense. If only a couple of states legalize it, then you could in fact see a problem with human trafficking in those areas like Amsterdam does.

    Provided that the scenario exists where there are large areas in the US where prostitutes are legal, the law enforcement agencies would not be so worried about arresting each and every prostitute, but could focus on finding and prosecuting those people that are guilty of human slavery. As is stands now, law enforcement has to find ALL prostitutes and the level of human trafficking is already high. Too few hands to find too many law-breakers.

  18. Well to be honest, it is kind of like legalizing drugs. I may be way off the point here but I genuinely believe legalizing drugs can lead to lesser number of casualties. If its underhand people who are “abused” cannot save themselves in any way. If prostitution is legalized, then sex workers can have a say and receive some form of justice if they are violated.


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