All Politics Is Local

How the Spitzer scandal is covered in the Israeli press.

Incidentally, it seems the bien pensant position to take on Spitzer is that there was nothing “wrong” with what he did as such; he wronged his wife by doing it behind her back, and, as a former AG who prosecuted call-girl rings himself, he’s guilty of gross hypocrisy. Plus the Mann Act is a barbaric relic of Jim Crow.

Well, Israel is one of the many countries around the world where prostitution is, in fact, legal. And guess what? That fact hasn’t “cleaned up” the profession. Rape, physical abuse and intimidation are still widespread.

“Sin industries” – gambling, prostitution, drugs (including alcohol and tobacco), pornography – are genuinely tough public policy problems. Legalize, and you get more of them – and those who suffer most are those who can afford it least, the weakest, dumbest and most vulnerable. Criminalize, and you don’t stamp it out, you create a whole class of criminals who don’t think they are doing anything “wrong” (and who are sure to be prosecuted in an inequitable manner), and you feed the coffers of organized crime to boot.

As a response, I find reflex cultural libertarianism as unserious and unpersuasive as reflex cultural moralism.

UPDATE: Via Matt Yglesias, here’s a rundown from Bradford Plumer on different approaches around the world. His bottom line is that legalize-and-regulate is the least-bad approach, but he is honest enough to acknowledge that least-bad doesn’t mean good and, specifically, that this approach is likely to lead not only to more prostitution but, because you probably can’t have a sex industry without exploitation and violence, very likely more people suffering from exploitation and violence, albeit likely of a less-severe variety. In other words, you’re reducing the severity of the abuses by increasing their frequency. Whether that’s a good trade depends a great deal on the numbers on each side, and good, hard numbers on either are going to be tough to come by.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Can’t resist linking to Derb quoting Quentin Crisp.