Response to a Regular Reader about Illegal Prostitution
By David Henderson
In response to my post criticizing Jimmy Carter for his advocacy of keeping prostitution illegal, Stanley Greer wrote me the following (and gave me permission to reprint.)
David Henderson criticizes Jimmy Carter for saying prostitutes sell themselves. He insists they sell their “services.”
This is silly. When a couple marry one another, they have no reasonable expectation of exclusivity with regard to the provision of genuine services such as cooking, cleaning, home repair, chauffeuring, etc. They do have a very reasonable expectation of exclusivity with regard to sex. People who get married while professing they don’t plan to be faithful themselves or expect faithfulness from their spouse are regarded by normal people as bizarre. That’s why libertarians who think “open marriages” should be legally sanctioned rarely argue in favor of them. They know they won’t get anywhere, so they don’t bother.
When you have sexual relations with another person, you give that person yourself, not a “service.”
The fact that Dave Henderson can’t see the difference between paying someone to fix your front door and paying someone to have sex with you illustrates why libertarians have so much trouble selling their position to ordinary Americans. Whether they favor legalized prostitution for pragmatic reasons or not, ordinary Americans have no trouble at all seeing a big moral difference between a door repair and sex.
Here is my response.
In his second paragraph, the one beginning with “This is silly,” I pretty much agree with everything that Mr. Greer writes, other than the statement “This is silly.” I was discussing prostitution. He is discussing love and marriage. So, no, I do not see a loving husband or wife as giving “services” to the other when they have sex. I did not think it was necessary to distinguish between, on the one hand, sexual services that are sold and, on the other hand, sexual relations between two married people. I thought that the distinction would be obvious to most readers. But to remind Mr. Greer and other readers, my discussion was solely about prostitution, not about marriage.
I disagree with his third paragraph. When a prostitute has sexual relations with a client he (she) is providing a service.
Now to his last paragraph. I do see the difference between paying someone to fix your front door and paying someone to have sex with you. Again, I did not think that it was necessary to state that there is a difference because I had thought that the difference was obvious. I have paid someone to fix various doors in my house and I have never paid anyone for sex. And the reason has to do with the fact that I do find the two profoundly different.
Mr. Greer argues that “Whether they favor legalized prostitution for pragmatic reasons or not, ordinary Americans have no trouble at all seeing a big moral difference between a door repair and sex.” In this sense, I am like most ordinary Americans, assuming that he’s right about the views of most ordinary Americans: I too see a huge moral difference between paying for a door repair and paying for sex.
Also, I do think that pragmatic reasons alone can tilt one in favor of allowing prostitution.
If I understand Mr. Greer correctly, though, he seems to think that if there were no pragmatic reasons for banning prostitution, it should be banned because of its questionable morality. Here, I disagree. Even if there were no pragmatic reasons for allowing prostitution, I think it should be allowed. I think it is wrong for people to throw other people in cages for being a prostitute or being a customer of a prostitute. In other words, it is not my view on the morality of prostitution that causes me to differ from Mr. Greer and many others. It is my view on the morality of coercively interfering with people engaged in peaceful pursuits.
I do agree with Mr. Greer, though, that “libertarians have so much trouble selling their position to ordinary Americans.” We disagree, though, about why. I don’t think it’s mainly because we disagree about the morality of prostitution. I think it is because we disagree about whether one should be able to enforce his morality on others at the point of a gun.
Sadly, we libertarians have had trouble “selling” our views on this to others. Increasingly, I observe many people around me strongly disapproving of the purchase of a good or an activity and thinking that that is enough grounds for advocating that people be thrown in jail for selling or buying a good, or engaging in the activity. In my state of California, for example, it is now illegal for someone under 21 to buy cigarettes or for someone to sell cigarettes to someone under 21. Under 21! It is illegal in my city of Pacific Grove for supermarkets to package their wares in plastic bags. It is illegal in many states of the union, although, fortunately, fewer than a few years ago, for someone to work in a unionized firm and not pay union dues. There is no shortage of people willing to force other people to do their bidding. THAT is where we libertarians have had trouble.
And, unfortunately, there’s no easy way around that problem. The life arrangers are out in full force. I would just ask Mr. Greer that he not be one of them. And then he can believe, as much as he wants, that prostitutes give themselves to those they have sex with.