My first reaction to the news of Eliot Spitzer's demise was that I felt bad for his three daughters, for reasons discussed here. My second reaction was that I felt bad for his wife for having to stand there and face the public glare as well. I presume that she did that for her daughters if not for her husband. It is the adultery embedded in the transaction, particularly by a father of teenage daughters in the public eye, that most disturbs me.
But that's a personal judgment and a matter that may be relevant in a divorce proceeding. It doesn't necessarily have to guide public policy. What of the transaction itself, if it did not involve adultery? For a public official, the big danger is that Spitzer's desire to keep the activity secret would subject him to blackmail by those in on the secret. With the secret out in the open, there's no longer any danger in that happening, even if he hadn't resigned. Perhaps we need a disclosure policy for elected officials?
What of the transaction itself, if it did not involve adultery or a public official? Now we get to find out whether I'm a libertarian or not, I suppose. Here is a libertarian's case in defense of legalized prostitution. Here's another defense of legalized prostitution based on strengthening the legal status of women who currently engage in illegal prostitution.
What does the economist in me say? Despite the rather high price paid by Governor Spitzer ($4300 per hour), prostitution--particularly if legalized--lowers the cost to the man of obtaining more and more varied sexual activity from women. Who is made better off by this change in price?
- Men who partake of prostitutes (buyers).
- Women who engage voluntarily in prostitution but not other types of sex (sellers).
- Men who do not partake of prostitutes but who face less competition in finding sexual partners from the men who are now content with prostitutes (buyers of substitutes).
- Women who do not engage in prostitution (sellers of substitutes)