Government as Pimp

Clare Chapham’s article, “If you don’t take a job as a prostitute, we can stop your benefits”, in the Guardian was forwarded by a friend; Todd Zywicki at Volokh also comments. Some see this as an argument for keeping prostitution illegal and others as evidence of a nanny state that can’t afford to keep up welfare payments with a 10% unemployment rate. My friend believes prostitution should be illegal. I am less opposed.

The essential problem, however, seems to me that coercion in many ways – some petty and some not – are likely to come when a state casts “safety nets” broadly. I don’t see how it can’t be coercive–if we do not have to face the bad consequences of our choices then soon the state will recognize that to survive we must not be allowed to make bad choices for which it takes the consequences. But life is full of complicated choices – is it a bad one to take unemployment pay and not work or is it a bad one to enter one of the more unattractive and dangerous professions (even ignoring the spiritual problems many might have). However, if we want the state’s money then we need to prove we “deserve” it by interviewing for jobs. And frankly, as a taxpayer, I do think that some requirements for such checks isn’t a bad idea.

I would prefer a world, however, where people felt work was dignified and sought it without the government’s push, where people felt prostitution (even though legal) compromised them and they had a strong enough sense of self not to compromise themselves. A world where, in other words, we made our own choices and took our own consequences.

But this brings us to another characteristic of broad state regulations: reputation and peer pressure count for nothing; everything is either approved and therefore encouraged or not – and then made illegal. Laws then govern all. Nuances that arise from peer pressure, the pressure of traditions, of our own peculiarities, of our own desire to say “I prefer not” will be submerged by what must be. We will do as we should–or someone will want to know why. This leaves little room for our petty vices and eccentric life-choices. Such a world is likely to have few compromises in the rules – only compromises in the self.

14 thoughts on “Government as Pimp”

  1. This is a reason that government systems and the instructions for computers are both called “programs.”

    Reading about this nonsense reminds me of an episode of Star Trek where a computer the size of planet gets locked up by a simple logic puzzle.

    The government program works like this:

    unemployed=TRUE //
    if job is member of set “legal jobs” then
    if unemployed then
    person takes job
    person loses benefits
    end if
    end if

    The only functional difference is between a bureaucratic program and a computer program is that the bureaucratic program is implemented by human throwing switches instead of having transistors do it.

    That is why things happen that everybody involved knows is stupid.

  2. One more thing, my spouse is convinced this is some sort of hoax or German version of the Onion that the Guardian fell for.

    I really hope so. I hate to think the Germans are that screwed up.

    I have to admit, this is one of consequences of legalized prostitution I never even considered.

  3. I saw this linked at Medienkritik today. I imagined one my daughters unemployed and told she must accept a job as a prostitute. It left me with a sickening, sinking feeling.

    I have a similar reaction whenever I hear an argument for the legalization of narcotics. It sounds so damn libertarian and theoretically sophisticated on first blush. Then I think of generations of kids hooked on heroin for life, or college kids no longer sleeping off a weekend kegger fairly harmlessly but instead robbing convenience stores to support their $200/day crack habit.

    This is not to say I want to see prostitutes in jail. I do think we need to tread very, very carefully when dealing with what we call ‘the vices’. It’s easy to unleash a wave of damage on society that can take generations to undo.

    Prostitution is one of those things that hover right in the gray area morality. I don’t want people going to jail for it. That’s silly. I also don’t want it legalized because I don’t want it encouraged or tacitly approved or opening up in my neighborhood shopping mall.

    Maybe decriminalized, yet not actually legal. Is that possible?

  4. Everybody calm down. Germany is finally starting to reform its labor market, and some opponents of the labor market reforms offered this as a theoretical case, for the new laws do not explicitly exclude prositution from the list of jobs you can be forced to take, if you don’t want to have your benefits cancelled. But of course nobody can be made to accept a job as a prostitute, for it would amount to rape, our constitution also forbids this.

  5. The article in the Daily Telegraph seems to have been cobbled together from several German sources.

    The information about the waitress who was told to interview for a job that turned out to be at a brothel was taken from an article on “,” which calls itself a “leftist weekly.” That article was posted July 30, 2003 (!!). The 25-year-old waitress was told to contact the company “Reni Massage.” The woman found the company’s website and figured out that it was a brothel and decided to not get in touch. According to the Berlin employment center, the job posting had been sent to the woman by mistake. The job offer had been for bar staff (not for “sexual services,” as the Telegraph article claims) and it hadn’t been obvious from the information that the employment center had received that the company was a brothel.

    The second part of the Daily Telegraph article contains information also found in an article from the leftist alternative Berlin daily “tageszeitung,” filed on December 18, 2004. Both articles quote a Hamburg lawyer called Mechthild Garweg (note that the Telegraph misspells her first name). In the “tageszeitung” article, Ms. Garweg notes that there is nothing in the law regulating unemployment benefits that would prevent an employment center to force a woman to work as a prostitute if she wants to keep her benefits. It is clear from the article that this is merely a theoretical possibility. German employment centers have meanwhile asserted that they would not be passing on job offers for prostitution.

  6. Obviously, I screwed up in a big way–from the Daily Telegraph. The other mistake, well, sorry. But then, it wasn’t in the Onion or Scrappleface – how was I to know? (Too good to be true, perhaps? The perfect hypothetical?) And it does seem to indicate a potential problem in any government (including our own) which must deal with the “unattractive & let’s don’t encourage” versus illegal in a state where legality is the only guide and the state omnipresent.

  7. The Torygraph is about as anti-European (and linked to that anti-German) as you can get it from a broadsheet (let’s ignore the tabloids for now).

    You can’t really be surprised about this kind of shoddy reporting and scaremongering from them, they won’t pass an opportunity for some good EU/Germany bashing.

  8. I was going to say, it won’t be the first time government got into the pimping business. iirc some legal brothel in Nevada owed a lot of taxes, so the government confiscated the business and operated it.

  9. Forcing a woman to be raped because she is unemployed is a barbaric and evil act. If the Germans do this they are no better than NAZI remanent scum and deserve to be shot.

    Anyone who thinks forcing people to work being raped as a “normal” job is totally F-ed in the head!

  10. Hi, sorry for just dropping in. I am German and have been alerted to this story by an American friend. I have searched a bit on the web and found this entry here.

    If Clare Chapman had taken the time to inquire at the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Labour, she would have been told, that you have the right to decline jobs (without endangering benefits) for serious ethical or religious reasons and especially if they are mentally exacting (“seelisch unzumutbar”). It is layed down in the very same law, the lawyer Ms. Garweg could not have missed that.

    Kind regards.

Comments are closed.