The Target of Illegality
Andrew (not Morse) joins the intraconservative conversation about bringing Rhode Island back in line with the rest of the country by making prostitution explicitly illegal:
Justin, I agree with Dan on this. You can’t legislate morality. There’s a reason that prostitution is known as the oldest profession. Even Christ hung out with a hooker. And though it may be that most every country/state bans it, it still occurs.
Drugs, same thing; make them legal and you eliminate half the income for organized crime and gangs. I smoked pot and worse when I was younger. Did I deserve to go to jail? No. And all arresting me would have done is make some lawyer’s bottom line better while costing the state money. And if your child used drugs and was caught, wouldn’t you do everything you could to keep them out of jail?
The point is that if people want to behave in ways that are damaging to themselves, society can’t stop them.
An excellent example is my 18-year-old stepson who went through high school with what had to be an almost conscious desire to fail. Nothing his mother or I did would deter him from that path. So we told him that when his peers graduated he was out the door, no matter what. He was shocked when we followed through.
When he comes back in a year, he has to have a job and pay rent. That rent will be less if he’s going to school, but there’s no more free lunch.
First of all, the cliché that we “cannot legislate morality” is inaccurate. Consider the infrequency with which swear words wind up on public television; that’s because the cost of slipping far outweighs the meager benefit of doing so, and the chance of being caught is high. What Andrew uses the phrase to state is that the market of losers and Narcissists who will seek to pay for sex even when the price goes up, and the supply of women willing to be sold at that higher price, will continue to exist. I don’t dispute that, although I think it would be foolish to declare that legality increases the market by lower the price, including the prices of risk and stigma.
But Andrew misses the same mark as other commenters: It is not my objective to ensure that a particular person does not buy sex from another particular person. If that were the case, an inadvisably extensive police effort would be required. Rather, my objective is to foster a society in which sex is not considered to be a salable good. That, of course, has the ancillary effect of keeping particular people from pursuing the transaction, but it is neither the focus nor the primary motivation.
In the balance of things, I believe that the principle of freedom outweighs the principle of sexual morality when it comes to public policies regarding private behavior. Indeed, sacrificing the former in the name of the latter proves counterproductive for everybody involved. However, a sufficient firewall exists between engaging in sex and selling it that prostitution needn’t be maintained as a barricade protecting more mundane freedoms (in the way folks argue that pornography must be maintained to protect more important freedoms of speech).