Vice Squad
Saturday, April 07, 2007
Nevada's Legal Brothels: "Antiquated Joke"?

The editor of the Lahontan Valley News of Churchill County, Nevada, provides an editorial, "Legal Prostitution is an Antiquated Joke," arguing that Churchill County should get rid of its provisions that allow legal brothel prostitution. Vice Squad's approach to these issues tends to be quite different than those expressed in the editorial, but I appreciate the editorial because reasoned arguments for vice prohibition are not all that easy to come by, at least for those vices that currently tend to be illegal. (Editors of newspapers in states other than Nevada probably don't even think of writing editorials condemning legal prostitution.)

The editor admits to moral qualms about legal prostitution, but does not base his argument on those concerns. Rather, he argues that the costs of regulating and negotiating over legal brothels or potential brothels exceed the revenues that they bring into the county: "the business simply has never offered any redeeming value to the community, isn't doing so now and never will. It's not compatible with the direction the community is heading, and the county will continue to expend resources to investigate and analyze prospective brothel owners, most of whom are from outside the area, and often ending without the opening of a facility, until the ordinance is repealed."

This is a curious economics-style argument, since the main benefits of any commercial activity are those which accrue to the customers (in the form of "consumer surplus," as economists would say) and those which accrue to the sellers ("producer surplus"). A comparison of administrative and regulatory costs with licensing and other fees paid by legal business might be helpful in arguing for a change in fees (or in the costs), but an unfavorable comparison does not come close to establishing that a business has no "redeeming value." The accuracy of the related claim that "Brothels are not the business of the future" would be revealed soon enough if legal brothels can't make a go of it in Churchill County. Or should we adopt a rule that prohibits any business that the local politicians declare to be not of the future? (The editor might be right that the prospects of the brothel business are not that strong in Churchill County: indeed, despite the fact that provisions exist for legal brothels, currently there are no legal brothels
operating in the county.)

The author is dismissive, perhaps a bit too hastily, of claims that prostitution should be reluctantly tolerated because men would be led to worse behaviors if prostitution were not available. "
The 'safety valve' argument I've heard a few times around town, which claims that brothels provide an outlet for those who could potentially rape or commit sexual assault, is bunk." But increased sexual assault is not the only possible consequence. Divorce and the keeping of mistresses might increase, too. These combined reasons were sufficient to convince both Augustine and Aquinas that prostitution was a lesser evil.

There are a few interesting factoids in the article: "
It's still baffling that 63.35 percent of local voters opposed repealing the county's brothel ordinance in 2004, while President Bush earned 71 percent of the vote in Churchill County." (Which figure is supposed to be baffling -- oh, it's the contrast, I see.) "An amendment to the Uniform Code of Military Justice signed by President Bush in October 2005 prohibits military personnel from patronizing brothels." I didn't realize that this provision applies to visits to legal and regulated prostitutes and brothels. (Here's the Defense Department's Press Release from the day that the amendment went into effect.) During the first Gulf War, Nevada's now-defunct Mustang Ranch offered a free "party" to any US soldier who served in the Gulf.

Vice Squad has looked at the brothel question in Churchill County before.

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