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I have two related reactions to the Eliot Spitzer story. First, it seems to me that we have to expect this sort of thing when we ban conduct like prostitution but tolerate upscale call-girl networks like the one Spitzer apparently used. This is a classic instance of American-style law enforcement of morals crimes: rich offenders live by more lenient rules than poor ones. That kind of cultural “reform” program promotes little save for cynicism among the poor and hypocrisy among the rich. The opposite kind of class discrimination—target offenders like Spitzer, and leave street hookers and their customers alone—might work better, but human character being what it is, that kind of trickle-down law enforcement is politically inconceivable.

Which leads to the second reaction: Better to legalize the relevant behavior than to have legal bans that are enforced in heavily class-biased ways. The occasional upper-class scandal like the Spitzer case serves only to fool the public: we think there is actually one law for the rich and for the poor. It isn’t so. Unless and until we are prepared to punish poor street hookers and rich “escorts” equally, we should abandon the fiction of prostitution bans. The sexual culture won’t be reformed by unenforced—or discriminatorily enforced—laws.


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Comments ( 2 )

I am all for equal enforcement of the law, but draw the line on the "ban enforcement until" logic. That logic, if applied across the board would eliminate enforcing burglary, drug trafficking and and a host of other laws. I suppose that logic would lead to not trying offenses where the defendant couldn't afford the best counsel as well.

Poor people are entitled to the protection of the law as well as the rich. Dehumanizing conduct, or conduct that hurts others (including prostitution) is something that government was created by God to protect us from.

I wonder if the class-related enforcement doesn't actually cut *against* legalization. One of the features (I take it, having absolutely no experience or real knowledge of this world) of high-class prostitution is that it doesn't involve people on streets or even "houses of ill repute." Indeed, it seems reasonable to think that lower class prostitution is more socially disruptive than the higher class type - and that would seem to call for more serious enforcement. Both this post and the earlier one on morals enforcement seem to miss an important consideration, namely that moral disorder affects poor communities much more powerfully than it does wealthier ones. I mean, would you buy a house near where prostitutes walked up and down the street? Why should the fact that the police don't worry much about high-class (in a sense) prostitutes mean that people in those poorer neighborhoods should have to put up with the trade (and all the nastiness that typically accompanies it)? The claim here is presented as being more poor-friendly, but I think it's quite the opposite (or at least is friendly only to some of the poor).