Monday, March 10, 2008

Super-delegate and Client 9

Another of Don's letters;

Gov. Eliot Spitzer says that his patronage of prostitutes is a "private matter" ("Spitzer Is Linked to Prostitution Ring," March 10). He's correct; that matter is between himself and his family and is no one else's business. I wish only that Mr. Spitzer understood that many of his most famous crusades - for example, against musical-recording companies aggressively marketing their products, against banks lending money to lower-income consumers, and, indeed, even against prostitution rings(!) - were crusades against behaviors that in each case is a "private matter."

If Mr. Spitzer wants us to butt out of his private affairs, he should from here on in set an example by butting out of everyone else's private affairs.

Donald J. Boudreaux

Why is it a crime?

Federal prosecutors rarely charge clients in prostitution cases, which are generally seen as state crimes. But the Mann Act, passed by Congress in 1910 to address prostitution, human trafficking and what was viewed at the time as immorality in general, makes it a crime to transport someone between states for the purpose of prostitution. The four defendants charged in the case unsealed last week were all charged with that crime, along with several others.

The oldest question about the oldest profession.;
In the end, this seems like the most salient question: Forget Eliot Spitzer. Shouldn't prostitution laws come down to working conditions and the legal rules that would lead to better ones for sex workers? According to a recent working paper by economist Steven Levitt and anthropologist Sudhir Venkatesh, despite all the fighting and all the preaching, we apparently don't know that much about the specifics of the structure of the sex market—how much prostitutes make on average, how many tricks they turn a year, how frequently they and their pimps and johns actually get arrested.

To start filling in the gap, Levitt and Venkatesh took a look at data from the Chicago Police Department. They found that women working the streets were making $27 an hour but less than $20,000 a year (they don't log a lot of hours). The risks of the trade were serious: "an annual average of a dozen incidents of violence and 300 instances of unprotected sex." There was also a "surprisingly high prevalence of police officers demanding sex from prostitutes in return for avoiding arrest." That looks like another argument against the bans on prostitution—presumably women wouldn't be caught in this particular trap if they weren't worried about going to jail in the first place. Levitt and Venkatesh also offer up this statistic: Prostitutes get arrested about once per 450 tricks and johns even less frequently. Two lessons here: 1) A law that isn't being enforced much may not be worth having; and 2) Eliot Spitzer looks really, really unlucky.

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