Spitzer, Prostitution, Firefly and the Limits of Libertarianism

John Derbyshire has an interesting post that manages to combine all of those above topics:

Prostitution, like drug trafficking, is one of those zones where libertarianism bumps up against the realities of human nature.

To a lover of liberty, it’s hard to see why a woman shouldn’t sell her favors if she wants to. Trouble is, weak or dimwitted women end up in near-slavery to unscrupulous men, and I think there’s a legitimate public interest in not letting that happen.

The best private sector solution would be a guild system, like the geishas had in old Japan. There’d be entry standards for the guild. Women would have to pass exams, and have some entertainment skills other than the obvious ones. The guild would police itself, expelling miscreants. Freelancing outside the guild could be under strong social disapproval, even made illegal.

Firefly fans will get my drift.

Most hard-core libertarians would argue that a woman’s body is her to do with what would and that includes the use of it for purposes of prostitution. While in my more libertarian moments, I have sympathy for that point of view, Derbyshire points out that reality of this world is often in conflict with libertarian idealism. Hollywood romanticism apart, most prostitutes are not like Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman.” (One judge I know once gave me a yardstick to judge prostitutes by: “The good-looking ones are undercover cops, the moderately attractive ones are men in drag, and the ugly ones are the actual prostitutes.” I think we can safely assume that rule can be thrown out the window in the case of elite prostitution rings the likes of people such as Governor Spitzer or Charlie Sheen would visit.)

But at the same time, what self-respecting woman would demean herself that way? There’s got to be something wrong in a woman’s life, whether it be psychological damage or just desperation that would lead her to such a life. The one night I went to a strip club, back in my less religious days for a friend’s bachelor party, I found them all depressing, even the more “up-scale” ones. Despite not being that religious at that point, the entire night, I just kept thinking, “What’s the matter, didn’t Daddy love you?” I would bet that often in a prostitute’s life you’d find an absent and/or neglectful father. (This explains a great deal of teen promiscuity, as well: Daddy didn’t pay attention, so the girl will do what it take to get attention from a guy.)

And that doesn’t include the prostitutes who are in it due to kidnapping or some other sort of coercion.

The Prohibition argument could he used: these problems arise only due to the fact that prostitution is illegal, but it still doesn’t deal with the roots of these issues. Besides, legalization would still leave a black market of prostitution, just as there are black markets for all sorts of legal products. In addition, it doesn’t respond to the needs of those women who are in the “business” due to psychological damage. After all, what’s the difference between a woman who services a man for $50, $5,000/hour or for a few drinks at a bar? As George Bernard Shaw put it: “We’ve already established what you are, ma’am. Now we’re just haggling over the price.”

Legalization would merely paper over the issues associated with prostitution. It deals with the legal troubles faced by the “johns,” while ignoring the much greater problems facing the women themselves.

(For those who didn’t get te Firefly reference: in that show, prositution is legal, as long as it’s done through a prostitute’s guild. One of the main characters is a prostitute with that guild, played by Morena Baccarin, who John Derbyshire has often expressed fondness for.)