Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Did I inspire Steven Levitt of Freakonomics daughter test?

Months ago I wrote a quick summary of my comments in an Economist debate on legalizing prostitution. I was going to use them to write an essay, but have yet to do so. Instead, I recently discovered a source for an apparent mistake and also a flattering echo of my thoughts.

That echo is not the only one, however, there’s actually 3: Definition, Ontario and Mr Levitt is in the very last, Economist. In a turn of events I would like to think is related to that debate, FBI has expanded the definition of “rape” to what is generally called “sexual assault” here in Canada.


In a case of “I can’t! Someone [me] is right on the internet”, in a debate on legalizing prostitution I used the term “rapist” when the term “sexual assault perpetrator” would’ve probably been more appropriate (see 19. in the libTO list linked below) or this:

What makes a rapist a criminal is not their need for sex but rather his willingness to satisfy it while ignoring the victim's will. Furthermore, if I read studies correctly, some if not most rapists are unable to obtain erections during their crimes. It's not the sex drive that causes sex crimes to occur, but rather a pathological / sociopathic need to control / harm others. In any event, I am not arguing for legalizing prostitution because it's healthy or normal, but rather because I believe it to be a better deal for prostitutes and because I don't believe that the state should legislate morals.I was basing all that on a study I read a while back which I could no longer find. Yet as it turns out, FBI only changed their definition of rape a few weeks ago. What used to be “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will” is now

Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration of a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.

BIG difference – it also adds a layer of validity to my original statement, not to mention that they will finally start counting prison rape.


But that’s in the States. The greatest impact that debate seems to have had was right here in Toronto, where, only weeks later, according to CBC,

Ontario's Superior Court of Justice ruled Tuesday the Criminal Code provisions relating to prostitution contribute to the danger faced by sex-trade workers. In her ruling, Justice Susan Himel said it now falls to Parliament to "fashion corrective action."

"It is my view that in the meantime these unconstitutional provisions should be of no force and effect, particularly given the seriousness of the charter violations," Himel wrote. "However, I also recognize that a consequence of this decision may be that unlicensed brothels may be operated, and in a way that may not be in the public interest."

The judge suspended the effect of the decision for 30 days. It does not affect provisions dealing with people under 18.

The case ended up in an appeal to the Supreme Court and the Canadian Organization for the Rights of Prostitutes produced a factum (PDF), with various echoes (TYT, docu). Meanwhile, we just learned that BC dealt with prostitution by allowing a serial killer to kill prostitutes for decades (tumblr).


First, the Economist has become a bit rough since then. On March 24, they censored a bunch of my comments and then this email, which was most likely sent to many others as well:

Economist-SubscriptionSecondly, I had said in the Economist back in 2010 and also in my article dated September 10, 2010, that

One trick opponents of legalization use to silence liberals is “what would you do if your daughter was a prostitute?”. It is hard for me to imagine that, as I don’t have a daughter and naturally assume there’s no way she’d become a prostitute if I had one. However, for me the question is whether I would use coercion to help her out of [a] situation [our current laws make more dangerous and illegal than it needs to be], and the answer is yes, only if she is underage. If she is over the age of majority, I would try to convince her – giving up prostitution would have to be her decision.

It turns out that this idea has taken a new life as Steven Levitt’s “daughter test” as quoted in the Economist in May 2011 (from a blog titled after de Tocqueville’s book, shown above):

ROSS DOUTHAT offers a partial defence of Steven Levitt's "daughter test" by way of a reply to my blog post on the subject:Or let’s go straight to the source in Mr Levitt’s blog also published in May 2011:

It wasn’t until the U.S. government’s crackdown on internet poker last week that I came to realize that the primary determinant of where I stand with respect to government interference in activities comes down to the answer to a simple question: How would I feel if my daughter were engaged in that activity? If the answer is that I wouldn’t want my daughter to do it, then I don’t mind the government passing a law against it. I wouldn’t want my daughter to be a cocaine addict or a prostitute, so in spite of the fact that it would probably be more economically efficient to legalize drugs and prostitution subject to heavy regulation/taxation, I don’t mind those activities being illegal. On the other hand, if my daughter had good reasons to want an abortion, I would want her to be able to have one, so I’m weakly in favor of abortion being legal, even though I put a lot of value on unborn fetuses.Was Mr. Steven D. Levitt influenced by my comments to the debate in the Economist? Hard to tell. But even if he was, can you imagine how hard it would’ve been for him to take the ethical route and credit “the Indelible Bonobo?!” TongueMonkey

It’s nice to be appreciated and I’m sure Mr Levitt is proud to have made economic history with the “daughter test” that now carries his name. I can only hope that one day soon we’ll share a Flaming Moe (like in Simpsons) as we disappear into the sunset. Cowboy

Sources / More info: eco-feeling, fbi-rape, cbc-prost

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