Half measures on victimless crime



Sometimes half measures are worse than none.

There is certainly compassion in providing for women who have been coerced into prostitution to expunge their records, and in reducing the consequences of marijuana use, but there are unintended consequences to both, mostly the belief that in reducing the damage you have fixed the problem.

But in both cases, the better choice is for government to simply get its big nose out of the issue.

Consider, if adult prostitution were simply legal, trafficking would be impossible, as a woman who was being coerced could simply call the police to escape that coercion without losing her livelihood. Marketing, in the age of the internet, is no problem. After all, there is no problem with trafficking of accountants or barbers. Further, no adult prostitute wants to compete with teenage prostitutes, and they are in the best position to learn about underage prostitution and could report it if doing so did not put them at legal risk.

Likewise, decriminalization of marijuana increases the demand for the product but leaves supply in the hands of criminal gangs. If the sale of marijuana were legal and not excessively taxed, legal dealers, who could expect the protection of the police just like sellers of beer and wine, would drive the drug gangs from the marketplace with a lower price and profit margin.

In every case, laws against vices, so-called victimless crimes, simply make things worse, and half measures at correcting the error do the same.


14 thoughts on “Half measures on victimless crime

  1. ” If the sale of marijuana were legal and not excessively taxed, legal dealers, who could expect the protection of the police just like sellers of beer and wine, would drive the drug gangs from the marketplace with a lower price and profit margin.”

    I believe that is the ultimate goal. (As it should be.) But in Virginia it seems small steps have to be taken to achieve the ultimate end. Start with decriminalizing, see what you predict happens (I agree that is most likely accurate) and then the next logical step is legalization.

    It is not so much a half measure, but a means to the ends as I do not think but one or two GOP members will go all in on legalization without taking the decriminalizing steps first.


    1. I wish that were the case, but what will happen is that when the half measures make things worse, the moralists will seize on that and say ‘See, we made a mistake easing off and we need to undo the damage and increase the penalties even more. ‘

      Making a failed experiment will set us back decades.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Don’t disagree with you on that. I was just pointing out the political realities of the situation. I am in favor of both being fully legalized. But I think we are in the minority with that opinion.


        1. “Minority” ?

          Maybe, hard to tell on issues that people are extremely guarded about.

          The number of pot smokers and users of sex trade professionals is NOT a topic most people will be openly honest about….

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Not really, there is no more support among Democrats that Republicans for full legalization.

      But there are opponents to liberty in both major parties, which is why I am a Libertarian. When either major party does something to enhance Liberty, I will side with them on the issue.


  2. As I’ve mentioned before, if we’re going to make the raw economic argument for legalizing “victimless crimes” we must take much more than supply and demand into consideration. We must also account for marginal utility.

    Channeling Adam Smith, it might be said that sex is like water and drugs are like diamonds. The one which is absolutely necessary for life tends to be cheap, whereas the one which nobody really needs tends to be expensive.

    Marginal utility explains why this difference in pricing occurs. Water and sex tend to satisfy the immediate demand for them such that the next demand will be weaker, and the next after that even weaker. But diamonds, like intoxication, never fully satisfy the immediate demand for them, such that the next demand, and the one after that remain nearly as strong as the first.

    Because of marginal utility, we can predict — all else being equal — that prostitution is not likely to be as beneficial for most women as, say, mere marriage (or, better yet, hypergamy). We can also predict that drug use will prove artificially expensive to the drug user and to his community in terms of lost productivity.

    But prostitution and intoxication remain the individual’s choice. It is to be hopedthat experience gained through an accumulation of bad choices may lead to generally-accepted social knowledge. It should be noted, though, that that is where we already find ourselves.

    The prohibition of prostitution and drug use exists today because we have already learned the lessons those behaviors teach. These trades operate in black markets because black markets are themselves one form of social regulation we have chosen to apply.

    This doesn’t prove that prohibition is the best response. We should seek alternatives on the premise that liberty is worth the predictable social costs — in this case, some number of abused sex workers and non-productive addicts. I’m just not persuaded that the economic argument for removing prohibition is a good one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. While I do believe the economic argument is persuading, there is also the compassionate argument.

      The prostitute protected by the rule of law, and unfettered by a criminal record, has more options than the one enslaved by a pimp and a felony record. She also has greater choice in her working conditions and clientele. Protection by the rule of law places her in a much better position.

      Likewise, the addict who can get his supply at a much lower cost, and who can seek treatment without being threatened with prosecution in order to out his supplier has a better chance to succeed.

      They are still poor choices with adverse social costs, but I cannot think of a single cost not made worse by prohibition.


    2. RE: “They are still poor choices with adverse social costs, but I cannot think of a single cost not made worse by prohibition.”

      That’s a fair point. Then the question would be: Are there circumstances when black markets are a more desirable form of regulation than bureaucratic oversight of legal markets? Theoretically, at least, it might be better to have an illegal brothel on the outskirts of town than a taxpayer-funded sexual gratification clinic at town center.


      1. Anything is preferable to a government run brothel. We already have a Congress.

        But what is desirable is for government to have no part in the market at all.

        Brothel locations can be limited by restrictive covenants, or in the worst case, by zoning, to appropriate locations, but in the day of the internet, delivery to your door in 30 minutes or less can be arranged.

        Periodic health certifications could be arranged with something on the model of Underwriters Laboratory, funded by the providers.

        There is really no good argument, if you believe in liberty, for government to be involved at all.


        1. A government run brothel is exactly what you would get with more calls for free government birth control, STD treatment and a protected status.

          As far as pot, I’m not sure I’m ready to commute to work among a bunch of stoned drivers and then deal with a stoned work force in order for government to collect some more taxes. Not like there is a pot happy hour established.


          1. “Not like there is a pot happy hour established.” With legalization, there could be.

            And to be honest, you don’t know who around you driving in the morning is coming off a three day binge of alcohol. Hungover drivers aren’t much better. The 18th Amendment was a failure and had to be repealed. Legalization of marijuana (at the state level) could drive to national legalization. Not necessarily a bad thing.


      2. RE: “There is really no good argument, if you believe in liberty, for government to be involved at all.”

        I agree in principle. I simply note that even restrictive covenants require the enforcement that government provides. Unless, that is, the public becomes so enlightened that it can resolve disputes without conflict on its own. Here’s hoping that day may come.


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