A Form of Coercion?

Just caught the following exchange on a rerun of the The West Wing between the Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman and director of the Women's Leadership Coalition Amy Gardner:

Josh: How is making prostitution illegal not suppressing women's rights?

Amy: How is making heroin use illegal not suppressing a heroin user's rights?

Josh: It is, but heroin is bad for you.

Amy: So is being a prostitute.

Josh: How am I not supposed to call you a hypocrite when you say that the government shouldn't tell women what to do with their bodies?

Amy: Prostitution is about the subjugation of women by men for profit.

Josh: But the profit goes to the women.

Amy: In some cases. But I know of no little girl -- and neither do you -- who says, "I want to be a prostitute when I grow up." They do it because they are forced to, out of financial circumstances and dire economic need as a form of coercion.

Josh: But the guy who breaks into my apartment and steals my stereo does it for the same reason.

Amy: And he's going to jail!

Josh: Yeah, because he broke into my apartment and stole my stereo, but nobody wants that to happen to them. But you can't say that about the other thing. Forget, for a second, that it's a women's issue. The law isn't a deterrent. Prostitutes advertize in the yellow pages. Aren't we just serving to create more criminals in a criminal environment?

I think the most interesting comment in this exchange is Amy's regarding the coercion caused by lack of available choices. Why does anyone find this argument persuasive? Are poor prostitutes, coerced into a job they despise "out of financial circumstances and dire economic need," thankful when Good Samaritans from the Women's Leadership Coalition make them even worse off by depriving them of their best available opportunity?

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Amy: . . . But I know of no

Amy: . . . But I know of no little girl - and neither do you - who says, "I want to be a prostitute when I grow up."

Oh yeah, and there are tons who say, "I want to be a lobbyist when I grow up."

- Josh

"They do it because they are

"They do it because they are forced to, out of financial circumstances and dire economic need as a form of coercion."

This is just the standard opening line of the Leftist (and Left Wing) argument against market-based economies. Next comes the immorality of people making different levels of income. Then the argument for income redistribution, etc, etc.


I think there is more than a

I think there is more than a grain of truth in the statement. What, in the economic sphere, are we criticising statism for if not its impoverishing effect on society? Statism acts to destroy private people's wealth, and therefore, their range of choice; their 'power' over their life. To see the truth of this consider the most explicit act of statism in our lives: tax. The 'marginal prostitute' is clearly influenced by the state's theft into being a prostitute.

It may sound like I am conflating politics with economics - the state with the private sector - but I am not. I am pointing out that state action destroys wealth and therefore what would have been done with it. It is not 'economic aggression' when an employer has to fire someone or fail to employ them in the first place because of state action, it is the result of plain aggression!

In a way people really are forced into such choices, and are not merely influenced in choosing them. State action that is not voluntarily agreed to property defense is pure aggression. It demonstrably eliminates the option of taking certain actions. Insofar as it does, it can be said to forcefully limit action, and therefore to 'force' people into a smaller range of possible action. You'll note the natural rights premise that I hold: aggression destroys our ability to live.

That said however, I am against the idea that being the victim of state action allows one to thence victimise other people. The indirectly forced prostitute does not gain the right to aggress others for some compensation.