If You Own It, You Can Sell It

Kerry’s brilliant take on the post-Client 9 discussion of prostitution is spot on. Apparently a number of people think the basic libertarian view of prostitution is facile. Well, the view that the basic libertarian view is facile is facile. The idea of self-ownership is profound. Every form of labor involves “selling your body,” one way or another. I see no interesting intrinsic moral distinction between brick- and other forms of laying. There is simply nothing wrong with selling or buying sexual services. There is no bright moral line between a good massage and a really good massage. The entire issue is generated by backward prudishness, a precious, misogynistic attitude toward female sexuality, and run-of-the-mill patriarchal paternalism. (Do we ever see handwringing about the degradation of male prostitution? Why not?)

Yes, some women turn to the sale of sexual services out of a lack of better alternatives. Indeed, some women turn to the sale of lettuce-picking services out of a lack of better alternatives. And bricklayers shouldn’t be permitted to individually negotiate labor contracts because they will be exploited by capital. Show me the difference. Whether orgasm delivery, lettuce picking, or bricklaying is degrading depends on the attitude of the worker toward that kind of work and her ability to sell her services with dignity on her own terms. More importantly, it depends on the attitude of people at large toward that kind of work. Honest work that we legally and culturally marginalize is degrading. But that’s because we marginalize it. Time was that champions of the moral order claimed that money smelled like shit and you could smell it on loanshark Shylocks. Very degrading. But now everybody charges interest all the time, and look what happened to us!

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