Legalize it! Part 2: Prostitution

By: hawkgrrrl
February 9, 2011

Today is another joint post by jmb275 and Hawkgrrrl.  Some of the comments in the post about decriminalizing pot also referenced the possible implications of decriminalizing prostitution, an even more divisive issue.  The underlying arguments seem similar:  these are “illegal” activities that inevitably crop up in society, it could be argued that consensual sex (involving an exchange of money) is a victimless crime, and regulation can lead to safer working conditions for the prostitutes.  There are already some states and countries in which prostitution is legal and regulated.

So, for or against?

jmb275:  I come down on the legalize it side, for reasons similar to the Marijuana issue.  I think it’s an interesting discussion because LDS members, on the whole, generally believe that having something be illegal is the way to indicate its immorality (also explaining why those nasty ‘ole democrats are so immoral).  I noticed this is encouraged by leaders as well.  In GBH’s talk on gambling he explicitly encourages us to vote for laws that discourage immorality.  That really represents a Republican point of view.  I’m also not in favor of people practicing prostitution, but I’m also not in favor of having it be illegal.

Hawkgrrrl:  I am against legalizing it (as well as illegal prostitution).  What is truly truly sad to me is the poverty and lack of choices that leads some women to have no other viable means of sustaining her own or her childrens’ lives as well as societies that create a situation in which the only commodity women have that is of value is their own body.  While legal prostitution is certainly safer than illegal, it’s all, IMO, pretty damaging to both men & women and society at large.  It’s not a victimless crime IMO.

And of course there’s the somewhat valid argument that some marriages are essentially the man paying and the woman providing sex and maid service.  I kind of want to make those illegal, too, but it’s clearly impossible to legislate.

jmb275:   I saw that Onion article.  Hilarious!

Hawkgrrrl:  I could argue pro due to the safety issues, but even so, it’s a profession that pisses me off because it’s not like there are a bunch of men out there whose only choice to get by is selling their bodies for sex.  And yet I acknowledge that there are some women who consider themselves professional sex workers and enjoy doing that work.  Pimps and johns are really the people I can’t stand.

jbm275:  Well, I’m afraid I don’t understand your position.  We need to be clear what we’re talking about.  I agree with everything you said, but it seems like you’re talking about prostitution in general (which I’m against morally).  If we’re talking about legalizing it, then I am in favor for the exact reasons you specified (safety issues).  My friend lives in a country where it is legal. He said it’s very clean, and the part of town where it occurs has many family establishments and it is not considered a dirty, or otherwise bad or unhealthy culture (even though he doesn’t agree with prostitution morally).

I have two problems with prostitution:  1. Illegal prostitution makes for a very bad and unsafe culture that usually involves violence and disease.  This problem is taken care of in large measure if prostitution is made legal and participants are protected instead of treated as criminals.  2. As long as we continue to view women as objects, sexism will abound.  I view prostitution and porn as two of the largest contributors to the status of women in today’s society (I know there are many women who would argue against that though).

However, the world’s oldest profession is NOT going to go away – ever.  Given that reality, I think we only make the situation much worse by criminalizing it.  BTW, we haven’t touched on sex trafficking or anything like that in this.  Those are a bit different and would warrant a different discussion.
Hawkgrrrl:  If we’re talking about the 20% of prostitutes (and that is a very generous estimate) who are in it for kicks and not because they have no other options but to be exploited sexually by pervy men, then I suppose I would agree with outright legalization.  There’s also always been child labor, but I’m not in favor of legalizing sweatshops.  As I said, it’s not a victimless crime (although I do acknowledge that there are some out-of-work gymnasts who consider prostitution an easy way to make a buck doing something they love).
So, I guess, coming around on the legalization angle, if the legalization involved requiring that those involved be college educated (or otherwise able to get other forms of gainful employment – some proxy to indicate that they really WANT to be a prostitute), then I’d feel somewhat mollified.  Does that clarify my position?
jmb275:   My question would be, does making it illegal actually help the problem?  Prostitution exists, and it always has and always will.  Does making it illegal curb it, discourage young girls from being involved in it, and save lives, or otherwise improve society?  And to what extent it does or doesn’t do those things, does it outweigh the negative effects on those who become involved in it?  To me, making something illegal doesn’t intrinsically actually do anything (doesn’t make something right or wrong).  Prostitution is a well known illegal activity, but because of that a stigma becomes attached to the people, and a negative culture is created (much like the war on drugs).  Making something illegal is only effective if it is enforced (incentives).  It appears to me it is insufficiently enforced to really be effective (like the drug war) and hence the negative culture is created with no real benefit.
My position on the issue would be one of abolitionism – that is decriminalize prostitution but criminalize (and enforce) the exploitation of prostitutes (including human trafficking).  This is what the UN favors, and is the situation in many places in Europe.  I think this really drives to the heart of the problem – that cultural forces are primarily responsible for prostitution.  One alternative to the way it is here is to do as Norway has done and outlaw paying for a prostitute but make prostitution legal.
Hawkgrrrl:  I like the Norway solution best in this case.  I would not prosecute prostitutes, but I would absolutely prosecute all who exploit or abuse them.  Basically, it’s one profession where I have low tolerance for a middle man (or woman).
To recap, here are some of the key discussion points:
  • Morality and legality are not the same thing.  We are both against prostitution on moral grounds.  Legality is about how society is regulated, not morality.
  • Making prostitution illegal has been proven to be an ineffective deterrent.
  • Prostitution being illegal only makes it more unsafe for women who are often already being victimized and exploited.
  • If it is legal and regulated, the suggestion is to require prostitutes to prove that they have other forms of gainful employment available to them.  Create qualifications other than the right plumbing.
  • To provide the right kinds of incentives, we should make it illegal to pay for sex (being a john), illegal to collect money for services provided by others (being a pimp), but legal to accept money for sexual services personally rendered (being a prostitute).
What do the rest of you think?  Has this discussion illuminated anything new for you (as it did for me)?  Would you decriminalize solicitation but prosecute exploiters and abusers (the Norway solution)?  Would you legalize prosecution?  Or would you continue to prosecute prostitutes and customers alike?  Discuss.

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57 Responses to Legalize it! Part 2: Prostitution

  1. Stephen M (Ethesis) on February 9, 2011 at 4:47 AM

    When I lived in Nevada (two years as a kid with my dad in the military) I had a friend who a high school counselor kept pushing towards taking employment in a brothel. That is the sort of thing that comes with legalized prostitution.

    As well as no unemployment benefits if you choose not to accept open jobs (which has happened, on and off again, in some European economies).

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  2. Course Correction on February 9, 2011 at 7:50 AM

    Interesting discussion and comment. Clearly, what we’re doing now isn’t working. We need to have a dialogue with all options on the table.

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  3. salt h2o on February 9, 2011 at 8:01 AM

    I agree with Stephen- if prostitution is legalized, suddenly it becomes a legitamate career choice for young girls.

    Controversial! What do you think? Thumb up 7

  4. brjones on February 9, 2011 at 8:11 AM

    Hawk, your position doesn’t make much sense to me. You are outraged by prostitution from the perspective that some women are essentially forced into it, and that it degrades and dehumanizes women (all points with which I agree). And your answer to the problem is…to keep it illegal, which does absolutely nothing to address the issue of women being forced to do it, and seems to make it even more degrading and dehumanizing than if it were legal and regulated.

    By the way, I’ve always been confused at the delineation between prostitution and the actors in pornographic films. Aren’t those people being paid to have sex? What’s the real difference? Is the fact that porn actors are being paid by a third party as opposed to a person paying for their own sex really so significant that one is ok and one is illegal? Am I missing some critical element here?

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  5. brjones on February 9, 2011 at 8:15 AM

    #3 In the same way that becoming a porn actress is a legitimate career choice for young girls now?

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  6. SilverRain on February 9, 2011 at 8:29 AM

    Because prostitution is not a solitary offense. It is often committed in conjunction with drug use, human trafficking and underage sex.

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  7. kamschron on February 9, 2011 at 9:15 AM

    Production of pornographic films was made legal in California by a 1988 decision of the California Supreme Court that overturned conviction of Harold Freeman, a film producer and director. According to Wikipedia, “Freeman could only have been lawfully convicted of pandering if he had paid the actors for the purpose of sexually gratifying himself or the actors. The court relied upon the language of the statute for this interpretation, as well as the need to avoid a conflict with the First Amendment right to free speech.”

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  8. Starfoxy on February 9, 2011 at 9:26 AM

    I think it should be illegal to buy sex, not to sell it. Prosecute the johns, prosecute the pimps, but don’t prosecute the prostitutes.

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  9. brjones on February 9, 2011 at 9:44 AM

    #6 – This is true, SilverRain. But have you ever had occasion to be near a pawn shop or bail bonds purveyor? They are virtually always surrounded by drugs, violence, homelessness, crime, etc. There are always going to be certain elements of society that are going to be surrounded by, or even attract, undesirable people and illicit or even unlawful activities. I don’t think that, in and of itself, is justification to outlaw something.

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  10. mrsrobinson on February 9, 2011 at 9:59 AM

    We should decriminalzie indoor prostituion just like we use to in Rhode Island from 1979 til Nov 2009, they never had 1 case of human trafficking, the spa’s all were licensed and paid taxes and even made donations to the state police and other local charities and the women who worked their spent their money in local businesses.
    They even caught the Craigslist killer because after he killed the girl in Boston he went to RI and robbed a HOOKER AND SHE DIALED 911 BECAUSE SHE HAD PROTECTION under the law.
    The cops could have entered any of these spa’s to check ID’s to make sure everyone was of legal age, and in the country legally and there by their own will, but they never did. however they did run front page newspaper stories about “how sad it is that you can buy sex a block from city hall”.
    Recently they found 4 hookers buried in Long Island and the cops told the media that serial killers rarely murder hookers, like it isn’t a problem.
    Just 20 years ago we treated Gay people the same way, with discrimination and HATRED.
    Some cities are creating JOHN schools so the men can walk away with no criminal record yet the women wh are forced in to the industry out of poverty are given fines and thrown in jail, the cops then call her landlord trying to get her evicted and the cops brag to the media about how they will continue to run these women from their communites,meanwhle nobody is creating any long term services for these women to exit the industry.
    You would thin the USA could show a bit more compassion to these desperate women and why are we spending tax dollars STALKING MIDDLED AGED CONSENTING ADULTS down who meet in private? I think LE has way too much money in their budgets to be spending our tax dollars this way.

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  11. mrsrobinson on February 9, 2011 at 10:03 AM

    See
    http://www.alternet.org/books/148327/how_19th_century_prostitutes_were_among_the_freest ,_wealthiest,_most_educated_women_of_their_time/

    http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/26/on-the-records-a-well-preserved-roadmap-to-perdition /

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mann_Act

    My research above show that in the 19Th century madams were the most educated, wealthiest, freest, women. Back then women could not leave her family until she married and marriage was a business arrangement. A women could not go out in public alone, work, vote, or own property. She was her husbands property and he was free to beat and rape her if he liked.
    Then Mann Act was created to keep white women from fraternizing with black men. But they sold this new law by saying it was to PREVENT WHITE SLAVERY. In 1910 there was 2400 white men for every 30 white women in the USA, and yet they claimed even back then there had all these HUMAN TRAFFICKING VICTIMS. Ironically marriage before women were allowed to vote was slavery. These madams had much to do with women winning the right to vote.
    Today the media and police like to paint all prostitutes in the same light. They love to tell you we are all a bunch of drug addicted curb crawlers. That would be like me saying all Muslims are terrorists. They also like to group the whole ADULT ENTERTAINMENT BUSINESS in with all forms of other abuses.
    We know prostitution will always continue because of POVERTY. Give any hooker a winning lottery ticket and see if she shows up for work tomorrow. Our current laws discriminate against these women as far as gaining other employment later, fair housing (Law enforcement calls landlords to let them know a hooker is renting their property to get her evicted). These women can not report violence or other crimes against themselves without being jailed themselves, and they are made 2st class citizens. law Enforcement now STALKS THEM ON LINE, uses Military Style Tactics to kick in doors of middle aged consenting adults in their own homes, and then they issue them a summons to appear. In the past 2 years I have seen cops in the news for exploiting teens themselves, they do not get 25 years for human trafficking, we recently had a Boston courthouse clerk, who stalked street hookers and when They came in with pending cases he threatened them for sex right in the holding cell violating their civil rights and plead guilty and only got 2 years, the jury said they did not feel like the women had been harmed. When they recently dug up 4 bodies of escorts on Long Island the cops told the media that serial killers RARELY MURDER HOOKERS, like to wasn’t a big problem. Cops brag to the media that they will continue to run these women from their communities. We get it that we can’t have curb crawlers but stalking someone to meet them in private and then arresting consenting adults for sex, which is legal if your GIVING IT AWAY. Its a MORAL WITCH HUNT that is more like a HATE CRIME and then we encourage society that “These women get what they deserve”, some cites are creating JOHN school so the men can walk away with no criminal record.
    I found most human trafficking advocates to be anti prostitution groups in disguise. they have been collecting donations for victims for years and providing no services, instead they spend the money touring the country like a politician lying to the media about how many kids are being exploited.
    They are even lying to Congress with Bill HR 5575 which will give hundreds of millions to TRAIN MORE POLICE TO STALK ADULTS while blaming it on a few pimps they prey on our teens . Every county already has a whole juvenile court system, a child protective services, foster homes, reform schools, detention centers, boot camps and even special schools for kids are risk. These teens are sent back home to run away again, they enable these young girls to keep running away because they will not hold them accountable for their behavior As adults we owe it to these kids to protect them from themselves until the are adults even if that means locking them up in boot camp til they can behave.
    Recently the FBI spend 800,000 on a 3 day sting to RESCUE KIDS, and They arrested 884 people, they did find 69 TEEN RUNAWAYS, and 99 PIMPS and they arrested over 700 tax paying consenting adults for trying to meet in private. And now they expect these same citizens to pay taxes so they can continue letting these teens be UNGOVERNABLE and not even hold THE PARENT RESPONSIBLE for the cost of RESCUING there kid over and over again.
    From 1979 til November 2009 indoor prostitution was legal in Rhode Island. They had many massage spa’s that were licensed and paying taxes , the women who worked there spent their money in the local businesses and they never had 1 case of human trafficking, and they even caught The Craigslist Killer because after the guy killed the girl in Boston he went to RI and robbed a hooker and she dialed 911 and reported it because she had PROTECTION UNDER THE LAW. She wasn’t treated like a criminal. however they claimed that if they did not criminal us in RI like the rest of the country that they would not be able to investigate human trafficking. The whole time it was legal in RI the cops never bothered to enter a spa to check Id’s to make sure they were all adults and in the country legally. the did sent cops in to see if they could purchase sex and then ran front page articles in the new paper “how sad it was that you could buy sex a block from city hall”
    So now as a escort n RI, I have to worry about serial killers and the cops kicking in my door. Yes I am a victim, of poverty, nobody is holding a gun to my head but my landlord will throw me out if I do not make my rent. How many more women have to be murdered, how many teens have to be left to continue running off with pimps, how many dangerous predators will get away and not be reported because of MORALS.
    Why is it legal for a women to have unprotected sex with a strange man she just met in a bar and even bring this man home where her small children live.
    Why have we allowed the women who helped set all women free in the USA to be a target of such hate and contempt.
    This can be anyone, your mother, sister, aunt, cousin or friend. If any PERSON is hungry and cold enough they will turn a trick for a blanket and burger and SHAME ON SOCIETY for their lack of compassion to desperate women.
    No services are created for the women who do want to exit the industry, I guess society thinks they should be homeless and live in the streets and many of these women are single parents with NO OTHER INCOME.

    Do you agree that driving the industry underground not only makes it easier for pimps to prey and hide our teens and for predators to rape and rob women and gives law enforcment way to much control over what “CONSENTING ADULTS DO IN PRIVATE and gives them the ability to abuse women during arrest and while in custody.
    I mean why do we care if a guy in the spa is getting a massage or a happy ending, if they are both adults and aree is is SIMPLY a negotiation for sex. Marriage is a negotiation for sex with an added committment of security. Ask any single mom who’s hubby ran off and left her with 3 kids that she had to track down for child support how well her negotiation skills were?
    Maybe had she had a choice she would have been a hooker, and not spent years picking up her husbands dirty socks only to find he was trading her in for a new model.
    Or maybe she still is….

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  12. Aaron L on February 9, 2011 at 10:57 AM

    The moral argument behind prostitution, marijuana, and other like issues is an interesting one. I think we have to ask ourseleves why we consider such things immoral, and then ask ourselves what we can do do decrease whatever it is about those things that make them immoral.

    If they are immoral simply because a prophet said so, then perhaps they should be outlawed entirely. If they are immoral due to the harm that they cause people, then we need to find ways to minimize the harm. Often as I think is the case with prostitution, outlawing the practice just drives it underground and makes it more immoral, if harm to people is how you define immorality.

    The abuses of prostitution as it currently exists are horrible, no doubt. As with marijuana, keeping it illegal does more to exacerbate those abuses than mitigate them. As much as it is morally reprehensible to some for whatever the reason, we have to consider that absolute prohibition of anything more often than not leads to increased use/participation, and especially leads to the increased abuses associated with the given issue at hand.

    One other comment on the OP. Hawk, I don’t see how prostitution necessarily “creates a situation in which the only commodity women have that is of value is their own body.” Though that may happen some of the time, I see it more as giving the woman one more tool in her toolbox to provide for herself. It doesn’t necessarily invalidate everything else that she may have to offer to society. I believe this negative effect you mention would be reduced significantly if prostitution was not illegal.

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  13. Val on February 9, 2011 at 11:12 AM

    If prostitution and pornography should be legally interchangeable, brjones, than so should watching Law and Order and committing homicide.

    I can’t even being to comprehend why you think whether the consumer is physically present for the sex act or not is insignificant.

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  14. Dan on February 9, 2011 at 11:46 AM

    legalize it. Women will have better protections when they are not considered criminals.

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  15. brjones on February 9, 2011 at 12:07 PM

    #13 – I understand this analogy based on the fact that people in porn are only pretending to have sex, just like in law and order, but are there other similarities I’m missing?

    Obviously you think the difference is significant, Val. If you have any substantive thoughts on the difference, I’d be glad to hear them. I don’t think the significance between the two situations is as apparent as you obviously do. I guess the question is why one considers prostitution wrong.

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  16. Thomas on February 9, 2011 at 12:17 PM

    Making prostitution illegal has been proven to be an ineffective deterrent.

    I’m not sure of the “proof” here. Of course making prostitution illegal has not completely eliminated it. But that’s not the criteria by which you determine whether a deterrent is “effective.” The question is whether making something illegal, reduces the amount of it. And I’d be very surprised if anti-prostitution laws don’t have at least some effect in reducing the incidence of prostitution. Increase the cost of any good (either by a tax, or by increasing the possibility that you’ll suffer legal consequences), and you should expect to get less of it.

    So the question is not whether anti-prostitution laws are “effective.” They almost certainly are, in that they have the effect of causing there to be somewhat less prostitution than there otherwise would be. The question should be whether the laws are effective enough to justify their social costs.

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  17. Thomas on February 9, 2011 at 12:22 PM

    I don’t see any compelling reason to prosecute only consumers and not sellers.

    From an economic perspective, a transaction is properly prohibited, when the cost to society as a whole is greater than the benefits to the specific participants. Both a consumer and a provider of prostitution services seek to benefit by the transaction. Since the basic argument against the transaction’s legality is that those people should not be permitted to benefit at society’s expense, why focus on one side’s benefits and not the other’s?

    Apart from “women rule, men suck,” that is.

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  18. Thomas on February 9, 2011 at 12:28 PM

    we have to consider that absolute prohibition of anything more often than not leads to increased use/participation….

    Why should this be the case, and is there any good evidence of examples of this happening? Because of course it flies in the face of pretty much the entirety of classical economics.

    I suppose there can, in rare cases, be instances where people rush out to do something specifically because it’s illegal — sticking it to the Man, you see. But generally, increasing something’s total costs, results in there being less of it. That was the case with Prohibition — alcohol consumption did drop (contrary to conventional wisdom), although there were high social costs, and consumption trended upwards as enough black-market infrastructure was created to offset the costs imposed by the legal restrictions.

    Legalizing prostitution, marijuana, picking flowers in national parks, or racial discrimination will almost certainly result in there being more of those things. The only question is whether the costs of increased incidence are greater than the total social costs of prohibition.

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  19. Aaron L on February 9, 2011 at 1:01 PM

    I get what you are saying Thomas. Interestingly though overall alcohol use did seem to drop during prohibition (though this was impossible to track accurately), alcoholism and the negative social consequences associated with irresponsible use use increased drastically. Many argue convincingly that continuing to prohibit marijuana has a similar effect.

    It is also interesting to compare drug use (and abuse) rates of countries like Portugal and the Netherlands with those of the United States. Generally, both rates and especially the latter are reduced in countries with decriminalization. There is also a general decrease in use in the same countries compared to when the ‘drugs’ were prohibited. I’ll post up some references when I am not at work and have more time.

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  20. jmb275 on February 9, 2011 at 1:13 PM

    Re Thomas:

    The question is whether making something illegal, reduces the amount of it. And I’d be very surprised if anti-prostitution laws don’t have at least some effect in reducing the incidence of prostitution.

    I don’t think this drives to the heart of the issue. The presumption here is that paying for sex is inherently bad and should be made illegal. Ethically, if two individuals contractually agree to buy/sell sex, why should I care? I care as soon as violence, exploitation, etc. comes into the picture. Making prostitution illegal is an attempt to curb those problems (and if it’s not, then it shouldn’t be a law). The question is whether or not making it illegal reduces those effects.

    Increase the cost of any good (either by a tax, or by increasing the possibility that you’ll suffer legal consequences), and you should expect to get less of it.

    Certainly, but it seems to me then, that the cost isn’t high enough. But this is a simplification. To increase the possibility means that someone actually has to enforce it. A threat alone is a mild form of cost increase. Further, to those in the depths of cultural hell it may seem to a person that the choice is between survival or jail. At that point, virtually no increase in cost will compensate for the primordial instinct to survive.

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  21. jmb275 on February 9, 2011 at 1:20 PM

    Re Thomas (again)

    Legalizing prostitution, marijuana, picking flowers in national parks, or racial discrimination will almost certainly result in there being more of those things.

    I disagree only on a technicality. I agree with you that increasing/lowering costs has the effects you indicate. But the presumption behind legality is that someone will be there to tow you in if you don’t comply. Consider many of the absurd archaic laws on the books of many states. Having a law in place does nothing by itself. It is the threat of force that increases the cost. If prostitution was made legal, there could still be a threat of force for the violent and unethical abuses that happen in the sex industry.

    Also, you haven’t addressed the question of why on earth you would seek to use force against someone for entering into a mutually beneficial contractual agreement to pay another for some service. I think we need to pull apart “prostitution” from the abuses that happen as a result.

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  22. Thomas on February 9, 2011 at 1:30 PM

    It is also interesting to compare drug use (and abuse) rates of countries like Portugal and the Netherlands with those of the United States. Generally, both rates and especially the latter are reduced in countries with decriminalization.

    I’d like to see how the rates were measured, before and after decriminalization.

    For example, was the pre-legalization rate determined by one method, and the post-legalization by another (like simply counting the officially-reported number of legal drug transactions?) Might a black market persist (for various reasons) after legalization, and be undercounted?

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  23. Thomas on February 9, 2011 at 1:34 PM

    Also, you haven’t addressed the question of why on earth you would seek to use force against someone for entering into a mutually beneficial contractual agreement to pay another for some service.

    Because the transaction may impose externalities — costs to society which aren’t borne by the people who benefit.

    It’s all about the Pigou, baby.

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  24. Thomas on February 9, 2011 at 1:41 PM

    Re: “pull[ing] apart ‘prostitution’ from the abuses that happen as a result,” sometimes the efficient thing to do, when an activity has significant negative effects that are hard to separate from the activity itself, is just to ban the whole thing.

    It may be that “Legalize prostitution, but not trafficking, participation by minors, unprotected sex, discrimination*, etc.” will get you so tangled in the weeds that the abuses will persist more than if you’d simply banned the whole shoddy business.

    Legal hairsplitting tends to yield results that only (unionized, well-pensioned) administrators could love.

    *Re: discrimination — If prostitution were legal, could a customer be sued for preferring an Asian sex worker? Would age discrimination laws apply? What about sex discrimination laws? Could a john be sued for expressing a preference for a woman over a man, or vice versa? Or a twentysomething over an octogenerian?

    Laugh — but never underestimate the combined naughtiness of an aggressive plaintiff’s lawyer and an open-minded judge.

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  25. Thomas on February 9, 2011 at 1:46 PM

    Ethically, if two individuals contractually agree to buy/sell sex, why should I care?

    Are you similarly libertarian with regard to organ transplants?

    Right now, it’s illegal to sell a kidney while living, or pre-sell any of your organs for transplantation in the event of your death. There’s a good case to be made that this result in an undersupply of donated organs.

    If two individuals contractually agree to buy and sell a kidney, why should you care, any more than if they’d agreed to buy and sell a kidney bean?

    Sometimes, the abuses that are potential in a class of transactions are so great that departing from the default position of free exchanges is appropriate.

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  26. allquieton on February 9, 2011 at 2:56 PM

    “…because LDS members, on the whole, generally believe that having something be illegal is the way to indicate its immorality…”

    It’s obvious that just about everyone believes this. Why try to pin this just on a certain group?

    Also I question that the prostitutes we do punish are the victims here. Will they starve if they refuse to hooker? Or do they just like money so they sell themselves for it?

    I don’t think we should give prison time to prostitutes, but then, I don’t think we actually do. But they should be punished b/c they are doing something wrong and harmful to society–for money.

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  27. hawkgrrrl on February 9, 2011 at 5:03 PM

    Starfoxy sums up my point perfectly. As to why jmb275 mentioned the LDS trait – our readers are mainly LDS, but it’s true that all people conflate their political and religious views.

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  28. brjones on February 9, 2011 at 5:18 PM

    ““…because LDS members, on the whole, generally believe that having something be illegal is the way to indicate its immorality…”

    It’s obvious that just about everyone believes this.”

    Not necessarily. I think there are many people who are uncomfortable with the idea of laws being equated with morality at all. That definitely doesn’t mean those people don’t believe anything should be illegal. I also think there are a lot of people who still recognize the difference between malum in se and malum prohibitum. You’d have to ask people individually which they would apply to a given behavior to understand why people think something should be made illegal. I think it’s folly to assume that because someone thinks a certain behavior should be illegal that he or she necessarily thinks it is immoral.

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  29. brjones on February 9, 2011 at 5:24 PM

    #27 – Even if one accepts the idea of punishing the purchasers but not the sellers, I don’t see how it’s a workable concept. Additionally, how much time and resources do we really want to allocate to essentially protecting adults from themselves?

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  30. Aaron L on February 9, 2011 at 7:35 PM

    Thomas,

    You bring up a good point that we have to consider the effects that prostitution has on peoples’ families and others who are not directly involved. Ultimately, as with any issue, it comes down to weighing the risks and costs to society versus maintaining personal freedom. Society is the tangible victim of almost everything that human beings do – we just have to accurately figure out what those risks are.

    Interestingly, religion tends to foster the belief that some things are wrong even if the risks are minimal or nonexistent. It is helpful to ask ourselves if it is possible to participate in prostitution with virtually no cost? For some, maybe. If it was regulated so both parties recognized the risks, participated in safe sex, were tested for STDs beforehand, didn’t have marriage commitments that they were breaking, etc…, you could make a strong argument.

    You could say the same for marijuana, or alcohol, or many other things that we have laws against.

    What is the real harm in these things if they are used responsibly? I had this discussion with a friend about marijuana a while back and his response was, “because the person in high.” In his eyes, the fact that finding happiness in a drug was immoral even if there was no cost. I suppose you could substitute for this discussion, “becuase the person is fulfulled sexually outside of marriage.” What exactly is wrong with that? Heaven forbid we find euphoria or fulfillment.

    Sam Harris has an interesting reply. He states in his book, The End of Faith, that “the only organizing principle that appears to make sense of them (our drug laws) is that anything which might radically eclipse prayer or procreative sexuality as a source of pleasure has been outlawed.” I’m not sure I totally agree with that, but at least some of the time there is probably some truth to that.

    If there is no intrinsic harm in something and the risks can be virtually eliminated or at least reduced to a great degree through proper regulation, it jut doesn’t make sense to maintain its prohibition.

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  31. Geoff-A on February 9, 2011 at 7:52 PM

    If we could change our thinking from legalizing it to regulating it we might see a different view.

    What are these costs to society that appear when it is regulated as opposed to unregulated. I would have thought the costs would be greater when police time and energy is spent trying to prevent prostitution, the pimps etc. were more of a cost when unregulated. When regulated they pay tax.

    In the part of Australia where I live prostitution is regulated. The regulations require, no street walking, that brothels have discreet signage, that brothels not be within sight of a scool or church, that brothels not be in a residential area, that the providers have regular health checks.

    It seems to me to work well. I was told recently, by a member, that there was a brothel in an area of office buildings I pass regularly and I had no idea. So unless you need the service it is not there in your face like for example in Las Vagas.

    The women are protected by the law, not exploited by it.

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  32. Thomas on February 9, 2011 at 8:22 PM

    Sam Harris has an interesting reply. He states in his book, The End of Faith, that “the only organizing principle that appears to make sense of them (our drug laws) is that anything which might radically eclipse prayer or procreative sexuality as a source of pleasure has been outlawed.” I’m not sure I totally agree with that, but at least some of the time there is probably some truth to that.

    Except that anti-drug laws are a creature of the 20th century, when religious influence on American life and government has generally declined, not increased.

    Puritan New Englanders drank like fish. (The Pilgrims famously got off the boat at Plymouth, instead of continuing south to a more hospitable territory, because they were running out of beer.)

    Sam Harris is just being typically, mindlessly snide. A whole lot of things that radically eclipse the immediate pleasure of prayer (at least to this quasi-heathen) aren’t illegal. Surfing, for one. Non-procreative marital sexuality, for another. Now, maybe I’m missing something wondrous by not using drugs, so I can’t comment on whether meth is better than sex, but what else is so mind-blowingly awesome that our Puritan country has prohibited it lest we neglect our prayers?

    Did I mention Sam Harris is a tool?

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  33. Dan on February 9, 2011 at 9:09 PM

    Thomas,

    Except that anti-drug laws are a creature of the 20th century, when religious influence on American life and government has generally declined, not increased.

    Declined? By whose standards? Or are we really saying “Christian religious influence” has generally declined?

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  34. Aaron L on February 9, 2011 at 9:59 PM

    I can’t comment accurately on drinking habits throughout history. You have a point that this phenomenon that Harris brings up likely isn’t universal. I only mentioned it because it demonstrates how religion sometimes causes us to have an aversion towards things when that aversion not based on logic or reason. I have seen this in myself and in others in varying degrees and we all ought to be aware of that potential pitfall in our thinking.

    Oh, and Calling Harris a tool or calling anybody names doesn’t really do anything to further the discussion.

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  35. Aaron L on February 9, 2011 at 10:14 PM

    Thomas, here is a pretty good article discussing the results of Portugal decriminalizing drugs in 2001.

    http://www.cato.org/pubs/wtpapers/greenwald_whitepaper.pdf

    There are many more out there, easy to find with a google search. Most of what I have read is in agreement with the above article.

    Also, freakonomics radio recently did a great podcast about repugnancy which included prostitution and organ transplants You ought to check it out if you haven’t yet. Like most things, I think that if organ transplants were regulated properly legalizing that sort of transaction might not be a bad idea. Yeah, it would have some negative consequences, but, many, many people would stop dying unnecessarily while they waited for transplants. Maybe Hawk can do a Legalize it Part 3 on that issue.

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  36. Thomas on February 9, 2011 at 10:35 PM

    Oh, and Calling Harris a tool or calling anybody names doesn’t really do anything to further the discussion.

    Harris took a cheap shot at believers. People who take cheap shots are tools. Q.E.D.

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  37. Thomas on February 9, 2011 at 10:48 PM

    Declined? By whose standards? Or are we really saying “Christian religious influence” has generally declined?

    By the standards of any person who reads more history than polemics. That is to say, by the only standards that matter.

    1. Massachusetts had a state church until 1833. Everybody was required to belong to a church, and pay taxes to support it. You could be punished for breaking the Sabbath. Those “blue laws” are virtually gone now, with only fragments of them left in arch-religious states like Utah.

    (Which our New England ancestors would doubtless look upon as a den of permissiveness. “No selling booze on Sunday” is pretty weak beer, historically speaking.)

    I know it’s some kind of article of faith in some quarters that the Theocrats Are Upon Us, and that religion has more political influence now than ever. This is what happens when you leave the teaching of history to the public schools. It’s quite simply insane.

    2. “Or are we really saying ‘Christian religious influence’ has generally declined?” — Which religion’s influence has taken up the slack? Zoroastrianism?

    Environmentalism, maybe, but that’s not really a religion, strictly speaking.

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  38. Thomas on February 9, 2011 at 10:57 PM

    Aaron, that’s interesting. (I’d actually read the Cato paper, and hesitate to butt heads with that whip-smart outfit.)

    I would actually like to see the sanctions for possession or use of the less-harmful drugs reduced to something like the level of a speeding ticket. (Which in revenue-starved California will cost you something like $25,342, so maybe that’s not the best example.) When enough people ignore the law — which appears to be the case with marijuana — whatever marginal reduction in use you get, may be offset by the fact that you’re effectively training large numbers of people to get in the habit of operating outside the law.

    On the other hand, I understand the Netherlands has dialed back its tolerance of drug use, after deciding that being a drug mecca was causing more problems than they wanted to put up with. That might, though, be partly a function of Amsterdam being a drug-tourist magnet because of the more restrictive laws of surrounding countries; it they liberalized, and the Dutch only had to deal with their own lazy paranoid stoners, they could handle it.

    Sorry — my reflexes here are probably conditioned by my totally unscientific observations, which consist of dealing with the fallout from my stereotypical stoner brother in law.

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  39. brjones on February 9, 2011 at 11:35 PM

    Sam Harris IS a tool – of awesomeness.

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  40. hawkgrrrl on February 10, 2011 at 3:28 AM

    Funny that organ donation came up. I think it’s a very apt analogous case. Someone who is sick (sometimes through bad personal choices) but has money pays someone who is poor and has no on-par earning potential to do what is risky, harmful, intrusive, and may have irrevocable health consequences. Sounds just like prostitution.

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  41. Dan on February 10, 2011 at 5:11 AM

    Thomas,

    1. Massachusetts had a state church until 1833. Everybody was required to belong to a church, and pay taxes to support it. You could be punished for breaking the Sabbath. Those “blue laws” are virtually gone now, with only fragments of them left in arch-religious states like Utah.

    So, in other words, instead of being forced to accept one religion, the state of Massachusetts now allows its citizens the freedom to choose which ever religion it wants, and that’s a “decline” in religious influence”….

    I know it’s some kind of article of faith in some quarters that the Theocrats Are Upon Us, and that religion has more political influence now than ever. This is what happens when you leave the teaching of history to the public schools. It’s quite simply insane.

    That’s not what I argue, but it’s a nice straw man. Obviously it is insane! Its head is full of straw!

    Which religion’s influence has taken up the slack? Zoroastrianism?

    Certainly there are more Zoroastrians now than back in those days. Certainly there are also more Mormons than there were back in those days. And more Jews, and more Muslims, and more Gaia worshippers. ;)

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  42. Martin on February 10, 2011 at 3:15 PM

    I’d say most of the arguments in favor of legalizing abortion can also be used in favor of legalizing prostitution. They’re very similar.

    I also find the idea of prosecuting the johns and not the prostitutes repugnant. The johns are exploitative because they’re willing to pay for sex? You could just as easily argue the predatory women are preying on poor base men. Ridiculous. Seems like a fair trade. Sure, some women are being exploited by pimps, so prosecute the pimps. Prosecuting the johns is like prosecuting someone for child labor abuses because they bought a Pakistani t-shirt.

    That said, I’m very opposed to legalizing prostitution because more young women would start to consider it a legitimate career. Yes, exactly like what has happened with p0rn. Having women stuck in such a soul-destroying enterprise because they made what they considered to be a legitimate choice when they were young-and-dumb is not good for them or society in general.

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  43. brjones on February 10, 2011 at 4:56 PM

    I’m not sure how you can compare abortion to prostitution, unless you completely disregard the aborted fetus, which is a pretty big omission. And even if one doesn’t consider abortion to be killing or terminating a human life, it’s a given that were the fetus not aborted, it would, in all likelihood, grow to become a human being, so there are still third-party interests of a non-adult human being to consider with respect to the abortion debate. With prostitution, there are no such third-party interests to consider. The only people directly affected by the act of prostitution are two consenting, legal adults. I think that’s a pretty significant distinction.

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  44. Aaron L on February 10, 2011 at 5:55 PM

    #42 – There are many prostitutes who don’t consider their profession to be soul destroying at all. It doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. Regulating and thus protecting women involved in prostitution would undoubtedly reduce the negative consequences even if more considered prostitution as a valid way to make a buck.

    From a religious perspective, I can see how people do see it as soul destroying. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Nobody can prove that either way. Even if it is, nobody has any business legislating their morality on anybody else. Let adults have their agency and make their own choices. In the mean time, educate so people know the real consequences of their actions and regulate to inhibit potential abuses. I believe the Gospel says a thing or two about agency. Man ought not try to take that away any more than God.

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  45. Martin on February 10, 2011 at 7:05 PM

    The arguments in support of legalized abortion basically boil down to a woman’s right to govern her own body and destiny over the rights of the fetus (as it is not, by this argument, a full-fledged human) and the interests of any other party, including the father, relatives, and society at large). There are arguments about how legalized abortion benefits those other parties as well, but those are peripheral.

    It’s basically the same question with regards to prostitution. Does a woman’s right to control her own body supercede third party interests? Obviously, it’s already been established that society can’t regulate who a woman voluntarily has sex with, or what favors she can exchange it for (housing, presents, etc.), except for money.

    Aaron, as for legislating morality, that’s what laws do. Everything we choose to do has an impact on somebody else. Every forbidden or allowable thing is determined based on trade-offs, and the trade-offs are made based on a hierarchical system of values. What are values, if not morality? Can’t legislate morality? Of course we can, and that’s exactly what we do.

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  46. Aaron L on February 10, 2011 at 10:33 PM

    Martin,

    I’m with Brjones on the abortion issue. Killing of a a fetus puts that issue in a category all by itself despite the other similarities.

    Allow me to clarify my views about legislating morality. You’re right, we do it all the time. We try to figure out what’s right and wrong and build society around those values. I’m totally fine with that as long as objectivity is maintained to the greatest degree possible in determining what is moral.

    Take the following system for example as given by theoreticalBS (abbreviation mine) on youtube:

    “The basis of morality is whatever means leads to a happy, healthy, flourishing, cooperative society. Moral or right = anything that promotes happiness, well being, or health while minimizing unnecessary harm or suffering or both. Immoral or wrong = anything that diminishes happiness, well being, or health or that causes unnecessary harm or suffering, or both.”

    I’m fine legislating morality, if that is the definition of morality because what is moral is objective, is more less the same for most people. Yeah, there will be gray areas and ethical dilemmas just like there are now, but they will exist no matter what system you choose.

    The alternate is a subjective morality, where morality is defined by whatever God commands, whether it be directly to you or through a prophet. The problem with that is that God is apparently commanding different things to everybody. One ought not force or compel another to live their life a certain way because it is the supposed will of God. That is the of legislative morality that I have a hard time with.

    Many of the opponents of prostitution, drug legalization, and other like issues oppose these things largely on a subjective basis and that creates potential for disaster. Prostitution, drugs, and abortion are pretty innocuous examples compared to other much more sinister things that have gone down in history.

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  47. Martin on February 11, 2011 at 10:20 AM

    Aaron, the problem is that there’s no such thing as an “objective” moral. All values are subjective. I think there’s a lot of similarity in what people value, but how values stack in the hierarchy can be significantly different.

    A fairly universal value is life. Most cultures value family honor. But a culture where family honor determines opportunities for family members could justify killing members of the family who significantly dishonor it to protect the well-being of the rest of the family. You can react in horror because your value hierarchy places individual life above family honor, but that’s not objective, it’s subjective. The slain family member owed everything to his family, so how can you claim he has rights independent of it?

    My point is that you cannot claim objectivity when hierarchically arranging your values. You can’t even choose a metric by which to evaluate values against each other and call it objective, because establishing the metric is the same as establishing a superceding value over the others.

    Since the hierarchy of values is subjective anyway, it seems having God involved in the subjectivity is as good as anything.

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  48. Martin on February 11, 2011 at 10:39 AM

    Oh, and I’ll add that

    “The basis of morality is whatever means leads to a happy, healthy, flourishing, cooperative society. Moral or right = anything that promotes happiness, well being, or health while minimizing unnecessary harm or suffering or both. Immoral or wrong = anything that diminishes happiness, well being, or health or that causes unnecessary harm or suffering, or both.”

    Is fine and good, but for whom? One person’s well-being can come in conflict with another’s, so who takes precedence? The individual? The greatest number of people?

    And different people are made happy by different things, often based on their personal hierarchy of values.

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  49. Douglas on February 11, 2011 at 10:51 AM

    What is legal is not necessarily moral and vice versa…

    Like consumption of alcohol and/or recreational drugs, I find myself in the seemingly contradictory position of advocating legalisation of an activity that I never have and never will partake of. Whether prostitution is legalised or not has no effect on my personal participation or lack thereof. Hell, I don’t know where any Nevada brothels are actually located but being in Northern CA I suppose that if I wanted it that bad the “service” would be within reach. Same as gambling…well, not quite, I have played Blackjack (and usually win a little, card-counting is not that difficult) but wouldn’t consider it a worthwhile reason to go to NV. In fact, I don’t bother with BJ even when I travel through the Silver State on occasion. Often its because I have my still quite under-aged daughter in tow and even if that weren’t the case I’d rather devote my time and energies to other pursuits. I do recall something about devoting my time and talents to building up the Kingdom of God on the Earth and sitting at “third base” at a Blackjack table, playing hand after hand doesn’t seem the thing to do.
    The question for me falls more on a Libertarian line of reasoning. Is there sufficient cause or interest on the part of the (state) government to regulate and/or prohibit prostitution? For the former, I say “yes”, and the purveyors (re: pimps, madams) would bear the costs (taxes, fees, and compliance expenses) and charge their clients accordingly. There is definitely a legitimate concern where public health (re: STDs) and protection of minors are involved. Not that I expect that any regulation and oversight would be perfect; there are unfortunately sick and sordid folk out there that seem to sate their twisted desires regardless of its legal effect.

    Indeed, I would say that many of the abuses that HG cited in her arguments in the opening topic would be reduced but not necessarily eliminated. Not unlike under-aged drinking…all that was affected was how minors in the “Roaring Twenties” got their hooch and how much they paid, but they, like their then elders, still drank. And certainly when the 21st Amendment was passed in 1933, the young people discovered sobriety, right? I don’t think so…

    Methinks this, along with other human vices, is an area where the public interest is best served by the Government interfering the least. Let friendly persuasion and social opprobrium temper a man (or woman’s) vices. I will, of course, persuade folks to “abstain” in all these things and insist strongly on my First Amendment right to do so.

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  50. Aaron L on February 11, 2011 at 11:26 AM

    I concede that a completely objective value system is not possible, but that doesn’t mean that we should abandon objectivity as a goal altogether.

    Honor killings is a bad example due to the fact that involves murdering somebody. One’s personal values must take a backseat when they involve taking away rights or harming another person, especially when that involves killing said person.

    Often conflicting values aren’t a big deal because they don’t effect others to the degree that we sometimes fear they do. If a man wants to pay a woman for sex and they do it safely, and privately as adults, how does that significantly effect you or me? Even if we legalize and regulate the practice, how does that conflict with how I live my life? Yeah, in a secular sense it may take away one more disincentive to be a prostitute, but that’s OK. I say that, even as a man with 2 daughters who I hope never go down that road. There are plenty of better reasons not to sell your body for sex that we can teach our kids.

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  51. Martin on February 11, 2011 at 12:27 PM

    Aaron, I’d say your last comment on honor killings illustrated my point exactly. You called it murder. Is it murder to protect your family from someone who is hurting them? You say in this case yes, because your value of an individual’s right to life supercedes the rights of the dishonored family. You’ve chosen dishonor for many over the death of the individual. How do you justify that? With your subjective hierarchy of values.

    So, with regards to prostitution, I think it’s safe to say if your daughters chose prostitution, it would hurt you. But, your value system is such that their freedom to choose trumps your personal pain. And that of your wife. And relatives. And your daughters’ children. And so on.

    Of course, you could all change your personal value systems and the pain would be gone. You could also change your personal value system and not be horrified by honor killings, too.

    By the way, I’m not equating honor killings to prostitution any more than I was equating prostitution with abortion. I’m just showing how the same reasoning with a little twist can justify either.

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  52. jmb275 on February 11, 2011 at 4:06 PM

    Re Thomas

    Are you similarly libertarian with regard to organ transplants?…Sometimes, the abuses that are potential in a class of transactions are so great that departing from the default position of free exchanges is appropriate.

    Yes, absolutely (well tentatively since I’ve not investigated that particular issue thoroughly). You’ve given a utilitarian argument here that presupposes that greater “good” (according to who?) is accomplished through the use of using the threat of force to ban individual kidney sales. You likewise propose a utilitarian argument presupposing a greater “good” (again according to you) through threatening force to prostitutes and their clients.

    You’re advocating legislating morality. Now I admit that perhaps sometimes this is the right thing to do, but I disagree that in prostitution that’s the right thing to do. Furthermore, I don’t think it provides the perceived “good” to society, at least not enough good to compensate for the ills the same legislation produces. I think there are solutions to the real ills that the sex trade imposes on society (via violence) that punish those ills but allow the free exchange of sex services (perhaps even with normal working regulation).

    Why be in favor of legalizing marijuana and not in favor of legalizing prostitution? Seems to me this is just a threshold of tolerance of perceived societal ills brought on by their respective trades.

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  53. Aaron L on February 11, 2011 at 4:44 PM

    I don’t totally follow your logic with honor killings. A father doesn’t kill his daughter to protect someone from hurting her. He does it because some action on her part shamed him and his the family.

    You’re right. My daughter choosing prostitution would hurt many people who love her, but it would only hurt feelings. You’re right again that I value people’s freedom and liberty to choose for themselves over my own feelings being hurt. I suppose that is a subjective value judgment. This is an easy choice though. Choosing the alternative, ironically, is exactly the sort of thinking that results in honor killings which are obviously the less moral path to take, given that they take life and cause intense suffering.

    Those little “twists” as you call them will be there no matter what system you choose. The more subjective your value system, the easier they are to make.

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  54. Martin on February 11, 2011 at 6:35 PM

    Aaron,
    “The more subjective your value system, the easier they are to make.”

    There’s no such thing as an objective value system, only a self-consistent one. A system of values supporting honor killings can also be self-consistent. I probably shouldn’t have picked it because honor in our society has very little value, but is paramount in other societies and it can significantly impact the fortune of the family if one of its members ruins it. Killing a dishonorable member of the family is to protect the family as a whole, not the dishonorable family member.

    This isn’t really an argument against legalized prostitution. Just a rejection of your argument that my morality shouldn’t be imposed on society because mine happened to be based on God. We all pick our value hierarchy based on what feels right to us, whether we claim it’s God’s will or not, and it’s entirely subjective.

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  55. Martin on February 11, 2011 at 6:37 PM

    That second paragraph “This isn’t really…” refers to the overall conversation, not what I said in my first paragraph.

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  56. Aaron L on February 11, 2011 at 7:38 PM

    I realize that there can not be a completely objective system, as I stated earlier. I do however believe that objectivity occurs in a matter of degrees, or over a spectrum. It is in the best interest of everyone to make the value system that we are governed by as objective as possible, for reasons already stated.

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  57. Jon on February 18, 2011 at 6:34 AM

    I didn’t read all the comments but here is my take. It should be legal. It’s not the government’s position to legislate morality but it is the people’s position to us the “shaming principle” to get people to be moral and if they won’t be moral it is God’s position to punish them.

    What we need is a restoration of property rights so, if a landlord doesn’t want an unmarried couple living in his rental home he can say no just for that reason alone. The problem we see is that people are not given freedom in all aspects of their lives and then we see the corrosion of ethics and morals in the general population because they are treated as little children not being able to make their own decisions. But I guess that’s what liberals and conservatives want.

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