Prohibition and the Economics of the World's Oldest Profession (Print Version)
by Harry Valentine*
Le Québécois Libre, March
15, 2012, No 298.

During a news interview on March 12 concerning the Ontario government’s expansion of their gambling enterprises, a cabinet minister commented that “prohibition does not work.” A week earlier, a news documentary reported on some aspects of the world’s oldest profession in Canada. Canadian law prohibits soliciting for the purpose of prostitution, an indirect method of prohibition.

During the golden age of alcohol prohibition in the United States, bootleggers and speakeasies did a booming business as prohibition drove up the price of alcoholic drink. The prohibition on soliciting may have had a similar effect, restricting the supply of the service and unintentionally raising its price. That high price has opened the door for a range of activities that include luring unsuspecting young women into the world’s oldest profession. During many interviews, several women who work the higher end of the profession have reported earnings of $10,000 or more per night. Some women had an established group of clients and did no soliciting.

Other women who discretely “advertised” their services found themselves being targeted by pimps who brutally assaulted them. The majority of these women decline to report the assault to the police as they may risk being charged under the criminal code for soliciting. They subsequently become cash cows for pimps whose only hold over them is the prohibition on solicitation. That prohibition provides the opportunity for pimps to turn marketable women into sex slaves who can each take in over $50,000 per week.

The women who work or walk the streets in the red light districts earn low incomes and are regarded as the bottom 10% of the world’s oldest profession. While some of them can operate as entrepreneurs, they too can attract the attention of pimps who seek to obtain some of their income in return for “protection.” In this regard, the pimp is an entrepreneur who provides a “service” in exchange for income. A business savvy pimp can transfer an attractive and marketable candidate from the streets into a hotel, where her take can rise from perhaps $300 per night to several thousand per night.

Zero Prohibition

The income of a pimp depends on the government enforcing some form of prohibition that restricts the supply of services being offered by the world’s oldest profession. An end to the prohibition on soliciting threatens to open the door to legal competition and a possible decline in prices.

Despite both service and soliciting being legal in nations such as Holland, only a very small number of women in the total population actually enter the profession. There has been no epidemic of women openly soliciting clients on the streets of Holland, where red light districts may openly operate in designated areas of Dutch cities. The regime of zero prohibition also opens the door for women who choose to enter the profession to interview with the owner of an established business located in the red light district. Whether the woman actually provides services in such an establishment is arranged by mutual and peaceful agreement.

Repealing the laws that prohibit soliciting for purposes of prostitution will certainly reduce incidents of pimps committing brutal violence against women, who would then have nothing to fear from police by seeking their assistance. The charge against the pimp would be extortion. An end to the prohibition on soliciting would likely result in the establishment of businesses in certain districts of cities, where clients and service providers would encounter each other in a safer and more secure environment, as occurs in Holland.

A percentage of the women who work at the bottom end of the trade on the streets are likely to transfer to such an establishment. The result would be fewer women on the streets soliciting for clients in high traffic areas that border on residential neighbourhoods. Residents of such neighbourhoods have complained of service providers and their clients quite literally conducting their business on front lawns after sunset during the summer months. Experience from Holland indicates that when both solicitation and the activity itself are legal, service providers and clients conduct their business indoors and out of the sight of the public eye.

* Harry Valentine is a free-marketeer living in Eastern Ontario.