Where New York Times readers don’t want to follow Europe: Legalized prostitution

The comments on “Should Prostitution Be a Crime?” (New York Times) are interesting. Generally the Times readers, at least the ones whose opinions are featured, admire virtually everything about Europe. Single-payer and/or government-run health care? The French can do it, so obviously so can we. Tuition-free public universities? Denmark does it, so obviously so should we.

Prostitution is apparently legal in England and Germany and decriminalized in Denmark. Could the U.S. learn from these countries’ experiences, either positive or negative? Apparently not. Reader comments, at least the highly rated ones, don’t generally mention these rather significant examples. (The article itself does mention some foreign countries where the laws are different, but the readers don’t seem to be interested in these experimental results.)

I think it is interesting that Americans, or at least Times readers, imagine that it would be straightforward to choose the best and then import a complex bureaucratic system such as government-run health care, but that it would be impossible or uninteresting to choose then import the most successful system of regulation for what happens between two individuals. Americans are like Europeans when they’re running a hospital or a university, but are completely different after hours?

[Separately, I wonder if it is our fondness for legal process that keeps us from legalizing prostitution. We seem to like it when lawyers can get paid every time college students or co-workers have sex. See “Lincoln Center President’s Abrupt Departure Was Prompted by a Relationship” for how $1200/hour lawyers were brought in after two co-workers at a non-profit org had sex:

To investigate, Lincoln Center enlisted outside counsel — Jeffrey S. Klein, chairman of the employment litigation practice group at Weil, Gotshal & Manges.

Although the inquiry determined that the relationship had ended by the time Mr. Bernstein was confronted and that it appeared to be consensual, the sources said, it violated Lincoln Center’s policies about senior management dating subordinates. The organization declined to provided a copy of the policy.

Lincoln Center officials confronted Mr. Bernstein, who agreed to resign and was paid a sum of money according to the terms of his contract, which are confidential.

Perhaps there should be a tax on sex. Given our socialized systems of criminal justice, medicine, etc., those who are abstinent are paying a high price to support the costs of cleaning up (legally and medically) after those who are not abstinent. Abstinent students pay higher tuition to support university-run kangaroo courts that decide whether or not to expel students who’ve had sex. Abstinent citizens pay Obamacare taxes to provide medical treatment for those who have contracted sexually transmitted diseases. Abstinent citizens pay taxes to support criminal prosecutions that follow sexual encounters (see Missoula for what it must have cost the taxpayers to investigate the activities of two college students behind a closed door). Abstinent employees and shareholders pay for corporate investigations such as the above (Mr. Bernstein and his ladyfriend had some fun; Mr. Klein billed enough to pay the property taxes on his house in the Hamptons; the rest of the workers at Lincoln Center got what?).]


13 thoughts on “Where New York Times readers don’t want to follow Europe: Legalized prostitution

  1. “In Sweden, she was also surprised to learn that men who are caught buying sex are fined rather than arrested, paying an amount that depends on their income and generally ranges from $300 to $4500, according to a news report.”

    That’s interesting, much like child support in some US states, the penalty is based on the man’s income. But this penalty goes to the state instead of the female.

    Philosophically, it’s a complicated topic – it’s mostly unfortunate circumstances that brings certain people into this line of work. However, just like the war on drugs, prohibition is failing and making it worse. The minimal damage to everyone involved is to simply legalise it and follow the German/Netherlands model, which as far as we know minimizes the risk for everyone. It’s not perfect, but significantly better than what is currently going on.

    Best comments:

    “It’s funny, I know several women who entered loveless marriages, steeling themselves to sleep with high-earning men they don’t very much like and don’t find attractive, because they ARE attracted to the mens’ incomes. They basically are trading sex for a lifestyle & livelihood. They joke behind their husbands’ backs about how gross the guys are and usually they pop out a kid or two, to seal the deal. We’re not talking just the trophy wives of millionaires. I know a hairdresser, a nurse and a lawyer who decided that getting up and going to work every day was for chumps and that they’d rather service a sugar husband than do so. Husbands are a contractor, a doctor and an engineer… I fail to see how these women are less whorish than the nearest streetwalker. ”

    “This letter, signed by 400 no-doubt well-meaning women, decrying the decision to push for decriminalization, makes me grimace. These are progressives who have learned nothing from our past failures to legislate morality. That many of these modern-day Carrie Nations are actresses who are able to (and would fight for their right to) safely and legally simulate sex for money, but are eager to send others to prison for removing that last millimeter of flesh-toned fabric … it boggles the mind.”

  2. Sorry, this is a gold mine of comments:
    “I also wonder if most women object to prostitution not because they care about prostitutes’ exploitation but because sex is an inherent bargaining chip in social relations between men and women, enabling women to bargain for relationship status in exchange for it. When sex for money is available, it reduces the bargaining power of sex, undermining the monopoly power of the social cartel providing it.”

    “Despite various experiments on making sex work legal, the level of danger to women from violent clients far surpasses the need for decriminalization…Part of how we can show humanity to each other is to discourage employment that has high risk for personal injury. This article is not helping young, impressionable women to find a safe life to lead!”

    Yes, and let’s stop young impressionable men from working in dangerous jobs with high risk of injury such as timber, fishers, and yes… airline pilots! http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/cfar0020.pdf

  3. May I suggest the US for maximum fun implement the Swedish system, which famously criminalizes the buyers (men) but not the sellers (women)? I seem to recall that pimping too is considered criminal; some Thai massage place recently got busted in the town where I went to university. I’m not quite sure what the crime was though.

    Aha, here is a related article.


    It seems the problem is “unreasonably low payroll taxes” but also sex trafficking. The reasoning for why sex trafficking is a crime when the recruited girls are not even committing one in the first place seems a bit tortured, but the general principle appears to be that the cake must be eaten yet must also afterwards remain.

  4. Women who think they are better than their husbands as a rule make very poor wives.

  5. It’s unlikely any Americans are still attracted to the opposite sex. More like a small number of people high up have engineered modern marriage preferences to generate the maximum revenue for a few industries at the expense of all else.

  6. Prostitution is legal in three Nevada counties (near Reno, not Vegas). For more details, check out the book “Brothel” by Alexa Albert, who started a project to assess condom usage and turned it into a sociological survey. The “industry” seems to have fallen into hard times in the intervening decade or so due to IRS busts, but remains legal, albeit highly regulated.

    Disclaimer: her husband is an investor in my company (and previous one).

  7. “While some praised Mr. Bernstein [the Lincoln Center boss] for his energy and enthusiasm, others complained about his management style, namely his telling off-color jokes and addressing female employees as “Sweetie” and “Honey,” the people briefed on the matter said.”

    The man is a monster I tell you. And a psychopath. Women and minorities today are our royalty and lèse-majesté is a crime. The correct form of address is “Your Royal Highness” and anything less is certainly grounds for dismissal.

  8. In Queensland, Australia (and most other Australian states) it’s all legal provided they’re licensed. Most operate as contractors and pay-as-you-go income tax collect goods & services tax. I can only presume most transactions are in cash so like any trade there is an opportunity to rort the tax office, at ones peril. Bit of info http://www.pla.qld.gov.au/

  9. In Comment #4, GermanL nails it with the first quote. Sex is an important bargaining chip in relationships, so if sex can be bought it undermines the bargaining position of the relationship.

    It’s no different than prohibition. If alcoholic entertainment is freely available, it undermines attentiveness to the wife. So ban it!

  10. Getting the government to outlaw the competition is almost as old an idea as selling pussy. American women who sell their pussies for alimony and child support don’t want to be underbid.

  11. Laws against prostitution = minimum wage for sex work.

    Without competition from honest prostitutes, a woman who performs a sex act gets 30-80% of a man’s income. She chooses Option A collect child support, Option B marry and divorce him for alimony, or Option C marry and collect paycheck directly.

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