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.