Criminalizing Poverty

In the latest example of third-party payment processor crackdown on sex work, Visa and MasterCard have announced they won’t process payments to, a popular adult advertising site.  Of course second-wave radical feminists frame it as a “progressive” way to “make the average trafficker or pimp’s life more difficult.” But as Miss Andrie argues in Tits and Sass magazine (“What the hell is going on with Backpage?” July 3), the ban will disproportionately hurt the poorest and most marginalized sex workers — those who lack the education and skills to use alternative payment systems like Bitcoin and find Backpage affordable and easy to use.

More generally, the main burden of such crackdowns always falls not on sex work, but on sex workers. They don’t reduce the amount of sex work taking place; they just require sex workers to do more of it, for less money and under more dangerous and unpleasant conditions. The so-called “Scandinavian Model” is premised on the laughable assumption that you can target clients without making the sex workers themselves either more vulnerable to rape-prone police or increasingly dependent on the most abusive and violent clients.

Actual sex workers try time and again to explain this to the usual suspects (i.e., upper-middle class white feminists who write for The Guardian). The problem is, the latter are so cocksure of their own white savior credentials and the wondrous qualities of their beloved Scandinavian Model that they just plain won’t listen (something I’ve witnessed repeatedly myself, as the self-appointed Carrie Nations of the anti-“trafficking” movement block poor women of color who presume to inject reality into the debate).

The honest truth is that these phony Leftist anti-“trafficking” crusaders really don’t care if their pet agenda hurts the real flesh and blood human beings it’s ostensibly intended to benefit. As their Conservative fellow traveller, Canadian Senator Donald Plett put it, “Of course, we don’t want to make life safe for prostitutes; we want to do away with prostitution.”

Their direct forebears, the Progressive and Fabian movements of a century ago, frankly admitted that their policies were intended to establish a form of “socialism” for blue-collar industrial workers with needed skills (under the direction of managerial-professional types like themselves, of course).  As part of its program, the “benevolent” state would also promote the gradual extinction of the lumpenproletariat and underclasses who couldn’t cut it. Some of them, like H.G. Wells, and Sidney and Beatrice Webb, wanted to condition aid to the indigent on “treatment and disciplinary supervision” in “celibate labor establishments.” Those too unemployable even for “forced labor exchanges” would be required to attend training camps, with “their whole time mapped out in a continuous and properly varied program of physical and mental work, all of it being made of the utmost educational value.” Wells was quite explicit that eliminating cheap housing and low-paying jobs was “to convince these people that to bear children into such an unfavorable atmosphere is an extremely inconvenient and undesirable thing.”

Of course the Fabians and Progressives were eugenicists; among the achievements of the latter was the forced sterilization of “tri-racial isolates” — members of various North American ethnic groups descended from runaway slaves, white debtors and indentured servants, and Native Americans who formed self-governing societies in back country areas beyond the reach of the slave-masters’ and creditors’ state.

The modern-day descendants of such pseudo-leftist social engineers include far more than the anti-“trafficking” activists. One of the main constituencies for laws against sleeping in cars, and all the other laws against expedients which lower the threshold of comfortable subsistence, is liberal do-gooders who claim to be motivated by concern for the welfare of the poor. But in fact the main effect of such laws, beyond criminalizing poor people’s attempts to make their lives more bearable (Charles Johnson, “Scratching By: How the Government Creates Poverty As We Know It,” The Freeman, Dec. 1, 2007), is to improve the aesthetic quality of life for the upper-middle class white collar folks who promote them.

It’s odd these people never attack anything but the symptoms of class inequality and economic exploitation, and close off all mitigating alternatives except those administered by people like themselves, without touching the structural causes of it by strengthening workers against bosses, tenants against landlords, or otherwise undermining the domination of rentiers and managers over society. But maybe it’s not so odd, come to think of it.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory