Spitzer’s girlSpitzer’s Sin has been of great interest to me, for a host of reasons. One of those reasons is obvious to our regular readers: we’ve always argued that prostitution should be protected in law as a legitimate right (and I recently wondered if banning it may be unconstitutional, a case I’d love to see considered by the US Supreme Court). Spitzer’s receiving the services of a call girl merely draws attention to the fact that the oldest profession is alive and well, and perhaps causes an increasing number of people to wonder why that is so, since it’s supposed to be outlawed.

I’m a libertarian, which means that I believe prostitution is one of a great many peaceful human activities which should be legal. And in many cases, the internet is proving to be a better custodian of those freedoms than the government. Think about it. The internet is the place where speech is freest, where censorship is absent, where political borders mean least, where the market is dynamic and vibrant and fast and unpredictable, where people can find anything they’re looking for and buy it or trade it or sell it or discuss it or apply it or practice it, where the power belongs to the productive, to the clever, to those with information, to creative, free minds in pursuit of greater happiness. The internet is the Promised Land of Liberty. That you are reading this article right now is possible by the internet, an impartation of ideas from my free mind to yours, unimpeded. What a wonderful thing! And no wonder it scares the shit out of the traditional institutions of authority around the world.

Contrary to the message in Hollywood films, technology is freeing people rather than enslaving them. (Some great movies set in the future portray the role of technology in just the opposite light: think Terminator and Minority Report and The 6th Day, for examples. We could speculate all day about why Hollywood likes to do this, but, sufficient to say, all current evidence suggests it is false.)

A publication which tends to share my vision for techno-utopia and liberty-through-tech is Wired magazine, a great monthly with a libertarian bent, the only publication I consider worth my subscription fee (see the permanent link on the left). In it, Alexis Madrigal has a great feature in which she reports on what amounts to the “semi-legalization” of prostitution by the internet.

That term – “semi-legalization” – was used by Todd Kendall, a Clemson University economist trained at the University of Chicago. Kendall:

“…argues that the ease and anonymity of the online world have created a virtual red-light district in which customers face little fear of prosecution. Like the file sharing of copyrighted music, soliciting tricks online may be illegal, but it’s difficult to prosecute because of the number of people doing it and because of the difficulty of tracking down the individuals who visit prostitution websites.”

The piece goes on:

“Sites like The Erotic Review (NSFW), which has been called the Yelp of prostitution, help customers find, rate and review sex workers. … Compete.com estimates that [The Erotic Review] had 323,000 unique users last month. Good reviews drive sex sales, prostitutes report. ‘I get a lot of calls when I have a new TER review,’ wrote a ‘provider,’ Bobbi, on her blog late last year. ‘It always amazes me how many men chose to see me based on these new reviews. They tell me that they will only see a well-reviewed provider.'”

This is better than the legalisation of prostitution! It goes one step further; to allow customers to create a completely open assessment of the service, what to expect, quality, price and much more. The internet allows the service of prostitutes to be considered like any other product by this criteria.

Of course there is nothing in this that prevents anti-prostitution laws from being enforced by the police. But it’s made much more difficult, practically speaking. Part of this may be explained in part of TER’s opening disclaimer:

“These ladies are professionals, any money paid to them is for time and companionship only. Anything else that occurs is a matter of choice between consenting adults.”

Anyone asks questions?: I paid for an escort for the evening, she accompanied me to dinner and we got along so well we ended up getting it on in a hotel room. I paid for the company, not the sex. And of course the sheer volume of individuals hooking up in this way makes the chances of being prosecuted almost zero. Police usually enforce prostitution laws by sending a female police officer to pose as a prostitute on a street corner, entrapping customers who make an offer. But since these providers are reviewed, and get business based on those reviews, that tactic has been made obsolete.

I’m not in the habit of encouraging people to break the law (I encourage people to change the law). I disagree with the majority of taxes, for example, but I still pay them. But there’s a line over which I think the government has intervened to an unacceptable degree, a line past which I think it’s legitimate to disobey the law for the sake of personal liberty and as a means to changing the law. If I ever used the services of a sex worker I found on The Erotic Review and was prosecuted for doing so (which is very unlikely on both counts), I’d use it as a means of mounting a constitutional challenge to the law prohibiting this form of sex among consenting adults.

Spitzer’s Sin is not that he used an escort service or that he broke the law, in my opinion. His sin is that he is a rank hypocrite, using his office to prosecute and even increase the penalty for people found paying for sex while he does it himself on the side. It’s a disgrace that these laws exist in the first place (and they’re frankly absurd the more I think about it), but it’s a damned outrage that Spitzer, a customer himself, was responsible for making them even more invasive and contemptible than they already were. As long as these laws exist, the government will be involved in the sex lives of peaceful adults. It’s time to scrap them completely. Though that may take a while.

In the meantime, The Erotic Review has quietly gone about the business of “semi-legalizing”, of semi-regulating by market forces, of making safe and accountable the services of sex workers, in a true matching up of free people who just want to trade their own money and their own private lives in peaceful interactions with each other, minus interference.

And the internet, our greatest exponent of liberty, is to thank.