Sunday, May 10, 2009

Wrong to Pay for Sex? Participants Say Yes!

The proposition debated (a few weeks back) was "It is wrong to pay for sex."

MacKinnon had a good closing speech. Especially stinging was her observation that no one ever made the prima facie case for the sex transaction. Would've been nice to hear a "generally, there's a (pareto) mutual benefit from economic exchanges" from Tyler Cowen. Still, I think his strategy was well formulated. The affirmative won with anecdotes that mixed paying for sex and abuse of women. The only possible response is to sever those two components, to ask which component is really providing the "wrongfulness" in those examples. Clearly, the abuse of women is wrong on its own, leaving us to wonder what we learn about the morality of "paying for sex" taken independently of other moral wrongs.

Cowen did a fair job of pointing out a few cases where paying for sex might be benign. MacKinnon slipped in a response about how neg was fighting for 3% of prostitution cases. That was pretty rough without rebuttal.

I think there's a response, and I think it's found in Tyler Cowen's early discussion of fishing. This is a profession that is incredibly dangerous, and often very exploitative of immigrants. We do not conclude from this that "Fishing is wrong." The 3% shows that the wrongfulness isn't inherent, but coincidental, anecdotal, albeit frequent or typical.

(I'm still not sure why Lionel Tiger was there.)

Ultimately, I think the question depends on whether "It is wrong to pay for sex" means "The wrongfulness of prostitution is in the paying" (where Cowen wins) or "Paying for sex has typically lead to great harm" (where MacKinnon wins). At the end of the day, I became convinced that the proposition was not decidable in its current form.

The audiences overwhelmingly shifted towards Aff. Even men taken alone moved that direction. Audiences in these often move towards the more controversial position, but here, I think they moved towards the mainstream.