The Ethics & Legality of Prostitution
OH approved of much of Philosophical Reflections 22 on sex, but took great exception to my statements that prostitution should be legal. This was, he said, a naively liberal view which failed to take into account the problems engendered by prostitution such as the damage to prostitute and client, crime and corruption.
O.H. argued (Tableaus, May-June 2001) that my position that prostitution should be legal was fraught with difficulties, naively liberal, and unrealistic.
As I see it, his argument is essentially this: prostitution harms both its practitioners and its clients; it is expensive and poor value for money; it is immoral; and it is a hotbed of criminal activity and police corruption.
Harm and Expense
I have argued (Philosophical Reflections 16–19) that the only proper role of government is the protection of individual rights, which means: the prevention of the initiation of physical force and fraud against people, and the upholding of contractual agreements. This follows from the nature of rights, which follows from the nature of man as a thinking being.
Given that, it is clear that there is no justification for laws which propose to “protect people from themselves”. There is never any justification for initiating force, whether privately or via the government, in order to impose your idea of what is right, proper and good on other people. Everyone has an absolute right to make their own decisions and live according to their own values, correct or mistaken, rational or irrational, good or bad – provided they do not violate those same rights held by other people. If you accept this – then all the rest of my political philosophy follows. If you do not accept it – then however you dress it up, your aim and result is the violation of somebody else’s rights in order to achieve your own ends.
In a free society, nobody would become a prostitute or use a prostitute if they didn’t believe they were better off than if they didn’t. Your opinion of whether they are or are not, and your opinion of whether the quality of the sex is worth the money, is irrelevant: it is only the opinion of the people doing it that counts.
If you think that nobody would become a prostitute unless they had to because it was the only way they could survive, then fine: start a charity to help them, or offer them a job! In a free society, that is all you have a right to do: and it is sufficient.
Crime & Corruption
One cannot validly use the inevitable bad consequences of immoral legislation as an excuse to retain and extend that legislation. Where the government makes voluntary transactions between adults illegal, of course criminals become involved.
Where the government acts morally as a defender of individual rights, the good chases out the bad. That is because in such circumstances, people spend their time, energy and money according to their judgment of how they are best spent. Inevitably, products which are better quality or lower priced – better value for money – are the ones which win out in the long run. It is the creative, productive and rational in society who reap the biggest rewards, to the benefit of everyone.
But when the government makes voluntary actions illegal, and those actions involve money, the bad will always chase out the good. Such circumstances both attract criminals, because they already don’t care about the law, and favour the most effective violence and thuggery, because the practitioners, having been defined as criminals themselves, now effectively lose the protection of the law. Then instead of the rule of rights and law, they live under the rule of force and fear.
The consequences are not hard to see. The more effective the crackdown, the higher prices become, the more lucrative the trade becomes, and the more violence is favoured. Then not only do we have a police force spread thin by having to police victimless “crimes”, but we have wealthy criminals able and willing to corrupt them. The disastrous and immoral experiment in liquor prohibition in the USA was a prime example. Yet people still think they can make it work.
Having created this situation, obviously attempting to reverse it by removing the immoral laws will not instantly remove the criminal element. However, the answer remains the same: remove the laws. Any actual criminal activity should then be stamped on with the full force of the law. There will be short-term problems (no worse than the chronic ones we live with now), but in the long term, criminals would be driven out for the economic reasons mentioned above. In a free society, the profits of voluntary trades shift towards those with the lowest prices and highest quality. Criminals profiteering off forbidden trades are attracted and maintained by the artificially high profits to be had, high profits created and maintained by the very laws meant to stamp them out.
Back to Principles
Nobody has a right to forcibly impose their views of what is “moral” or what is “best for society” on other people. It is that kind of thinking which has justified every kind of thuggery from the beginning of time – the Inquisition’s persecution of “heretics”, the Nazi’s persecution of Jews and Poles, our own government’s past persecution of homosexuals, and the Taliban’s persecution of “infidels” and women. They all thought they were right, too.
Rights are rights because of the requirements of human survival, which depends upon the uncoerced use of the mind – and the individual mind is the only mind there is. Because of that, any attempt to solve “society’s problems” by violating individual rights is doomed to fail, for no violation of those rights can escape the consequences of its being inherently contrary to the requirements of human life as such. Whatever solution you might see in government action for anything other than protection of rights, it can never work in the long term. Violating rights, whatever your high-sounding motives might be, is never right, and therefore never practical.