What's sauce for the goose . . .

I've had a few people email me to ask "if prostitution is so great, how come you're not a prostitute?" Huh?

Look, first of all, there are lots of jobs that I would never want to do. I like to shoot a little hoops now and again, but I would never, ever want to be a professional basketball player. Nor would any of my friends--I mean, they might like to be Michael Jordan, but they wouldn't want to do the actual job of spending hours a day running up and down a court, practicing shots, and lifting weights. I do not therefore consider myself qualified to proclaim that no one in the entire world wants to be a professional basketball player.

Second of all, can we all concede that at least part of the reason that women do not want to be prostitutes is that there is a severe social stigma attached to women who are promiscuous, and particularly to women who rent their promiscuity to men--a stigma far, far greater than that which attaches to their clients? This makes any argument from my desires entirely circular. Kerry is arguing for eliminating that stigma. If I'd grown up in a culture that thought of "prostitute" as a job like "CPA" (another job I'd hate), I probably still wouldn't want to be one. But the fact that I am repulsed by the idea of turning tricks, having grown up in a society that thinks there's something deeply wrong with turning tricks, is not actually proof that there is something deeply wrong with turning tricks. White people in the south were also genuinely repulsed by the idea of drinking from a water fountain that a black person had touched. Your gut is not a good replacement for reasoning from first principles.

So I need a better reason than "it's icky" or "there's something wrong with a woman who would do that" to justify either a moral or a cultural ban on the practice. I'm probably more open than Will or Kerry to being convinced, but I'd take some pretty strong convincing that prostitution is so inherently damaging to society that we should declare war on it. I start with the principles that sex has equal moral significance when performed by a man or a woman; that it isn't anyone's business how many or what kind of partners you choose; and that government intrusion on private, voluntary exchange should be sharply limited to a) practices which produce demonstrable harm to third parties, and b) you can reasonably expect to control. This quickly leads me to "don't you have something better to do than poke your nose into someone else's hotel room?"

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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