"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, November 17, 2005

For Love Or Money

A friend of mine who has a political role in a country other than our own was describing to me her battle on behalf of free government health care for prostitutes. She maintains that she is doing this on a moral as wall as a pragmatic basis. The efforts of the Catholic Church to thwart her initiative were viewed by her with disdain.

I made the following points in my response.

1) I am not convinced that prostitution should be illegal, but I think it should be against public policy so that we don't get absurd anomalies like the German government denying a woman unemployment benefits because she had a job offer - as a prostitute - that she was not accepting. I would be perfectly content to live in Nevada where the populace has deigned to allow prostitution as a legal enterprise subject to licensing and registration requirements.

2) However, we must also recognize the right of polities to place transactions of that nature outside the law. The vast majority of localities have exercised that right and most of them enforce those laws to some degree.

3) Inasmuch as this is an illegal activity in these venues, it is inappropriate to attach any special rewards to this activity. The conferring of a free health-care program is a sizeable financial award.

4) Furthermore, this constitutes a benefit attached to this field that is not present in waitressing or house-cleaning or other things that unskilled people do to scrape by until they can better themselves. So besides for the reward for those already engaged, we are now offering an incentive for those who are considering.

5) The same set of inferences that are drawn from illegality as a profession (contrasting prostitutes to waitresses) can be drawn from the conflict with social mores (pitting prostitution against marriage). We cannot give advantages to a prostitute that we are not giving a wife.

6) In general, there is no such thing as "free" health-care. This is a euphemism for taking money from taxpayers to give to others. This means that we are making those waitresses and wives pay taxes so the prostitutes can receive a benefit that they do not. This is a palpable absurdity.

There are more details that could be added to this, but for now this should suffice to the case.

11 comments:

JC said...

Agreed---well said.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

Besides, how do you prove that you're a prostitute in order to get your free health care?

Anyone could make the claim.

I suppose you could show receipts, but then you'd have to pay taxes on the money. Then one could claim that they were giving comfort to the poor, and were turning tricks for free.

\sarcasm{on}

I just did myself ... GIMME MY HEALTH CARE!

\sarcasm{off}

:)

Tlaloc said...

Contrarily you could look at it this way:

As opposed to a waitress or a maid or whatever, health concerns of a prostitute are quite possibly going to be shared in rapid manner with a variety of men who may themselves be sleeping or later sleep with a waitress or maid or whatever. In that sense as an easy vector for the transmission of disease it is in EVERYONE'S interest that they be regularly treated and screened.

See it's a lot like the needle exchange programs. They work, quite well in fact, at reducing the spread of disaese. The data supports that conclusively. Some people have issues in that they see the existence of needle programs as condoning the use of illegal drugs. I understand that contention but eventually you have to look at the overall health issue. In that light you are either pro-needle exchange or you are pro-AIDS.

The question is whether you can overcome minor personal reservartions in the face of a huge amount of public good.

Hunter Baker said...

This is where we get into what kind of society we are trying to host. Aristotle says it is based on civic friendship -- we are trying to cultivate excellence together. Locke sees us more like atoms trying to protect our space and not collide too frequently. Legalizing prostitution is more Lockean and I'm not sure I fit in that boat.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

See it's a lot like the needle exchange programs. They work, quite well in fact, at reducing the spread of disaese.

While I agree that in theory the overall health of a community may benefit, you still have to have a way to prove that you are a prostitute, especially if it is illegal (legalization and regulation is a different issue).

Jay is suggesting, I believe, that giving a rather large incentive, ie, "free" health care, will have unintended consequences that are likely to outweight the overall physical health of the community.

Needle exchange programs are very cheap, and there is little or no incentive for a non-IV drug user to abuse the program.

The bottom line is that the cost/benefit ratio for needle exchange programs is in a completely different ballpark than "free" health care for prostitutes.

James Elliott said...

I agree with Tlaloc (Shocking, I know...). In the case of prostitution, it is a public health concern that they have access to health care - particularly of the kind directed towards preventing and identifying infectious diseases - and preventative/prophylactic materials. By your same argument, you are condemning those waitresses and wives to the possibility of contracting diseases their boyfriends, husbands, casual flings, and rapists may have contracted from prostitutes who, without subsidized health care, cannot afford to find out if they have such an ailment.

Prostitutes are often frequented by foreigners and have multiple johns in one night and frequent populated, often crowded urban areas. They are a perfect vector for a biological attack.

There's a public health reason and a national security reason for free health care to prostitutes.

In this case, Hunter is quite correct: There is a greater public good we all have a responsibility for.

mjwatson said...

Interesting conversation. I'm just chiming in to demur from Hunter's description of Locke. But to get to far into it would be a hijack of the topic.

Tlaloc said...

"While I agree that in theory the overall health of a community may benefit, you still have to have a way to prove that you are a prostitute, especially if it is illegal (legalization and regulation is a different issue)."

Certainly and there's no doubt a great many issues to confront, but if we accept that the idea itself is worthwhile then we can work out the details. If we can't agree that the idea is worth pursuing then the details don't matter.



"The bottom line is that the cost/benefit ratio for needle exchange programs is in a completely different ballpark than "free" health care for prostitutes."

A reasonable point, however I'd point out that you may be underestimating the effect of a prostitute with say syphilus. I sincerely doubt even the most ferocious drug fiends share a needle with dozens of others per day.

Hunter Baker said...

mjwatson, you should get into my description of Locke because to speak of Locke and Aristotle would be to really get at the heart of this thing. It wouldn't bother me a bit to be corrected on Locke. Feel free to instruct. I'd be much more pleased than insulted.

connie deady said...

Seems to me that for some conservatives there might be a conflict between a Lockean view of rights retained under the social contract and opposition to behavior that would be considered immoral. I'd find this to be a traditional conservative problem between the libertarians and the religious right.

Alan said...

This is an interesting discussion. I am struck by the public health arguments and would suggest an alternative way of solving the problem:

Why don't we have a living wage for prostitutes where we can be sure that they can afford healthcare.

or better yet, let people set up prostitution corporations where they fall under the same laws as other employers and have to provide some level of healthcare.

or even better - why don't we make them public employees with union level health benefits.

or, for the piece de resistance (sorry, no accents) - why not pay them NOT to work as prostitutes.

If the benefit of protecting the public health is the top priority and morality is irrelevant, then why won't any of the above alternative methods be acceptable? The absurdity is clear. Morals matter.