For example, few on either side of the Atlantic would argue that prostitution is a good thing. But in most of Europe, where many people recognize that you can't just wish it away with laws, prostitution is generally legal and regulated.
Of course, each country has its own laws...and quirks. German sex workers rent a room in multi-story “Eros Towers.” If a Greek prostitute gets married, she must give up her license to sell sex. Portuguese call girls can lose custody of their children. Dutch hookers have a union. In Iceland and Switzerland, while prostitution is legal, it is illegal for a third party to profit from the sale of sex. In general, the hope is that when a prostitute needs help and pushes her emergency button, a policeman rather than a pimp comes to her rescue.
While that's the ideal, it's not foolproof. There is still sex trafficking and abuse of women in the sex trade. But Europeans figure with their more progressive, creative, and pragmatic approach to what they consider a “victimless crime,” they are minimizing violence, reducing the spread of AIDS and other diseases, and allowing sex workers a better life...all while generating some additional tax revenue.
In another example of European pragmatism, Europe's drinking age is typically lower than the US's. While no country in the world has a higher drinking age than America's, most European countries allow 16- or 18-year-olds to consume alcohol. European parents recognize that — no matter how fiercely they moralize against alcohol — their teens will drink. (Europeans puzzle over why 18-year-old Americans can marry, buy a gun, go to war, and vote...but not buy a can of beer.)
This is just one example of pragmatic harm reduction motivating drug policy in Europe. In some parts of Europe, a joint of marijuana causes about as much excitement as a can of beer. And the Continent's needle junkies are dealt with by nurses, counselors, and maintenance clinics more than with cops, judges, and prisons. (I'll talk more about the European approach to drug policy in later blog entries.)
Perhaps Europe's inclination to be tolerant is rooted in the intolerance of its past. In the 16th century, they were burning Protestants for their beliefs. In the 18th century, they were drowning women who stepped out of line as witches. In the 20th century, Nazis were gassing Jews, Gypsies, and gay people. Now in the 21st century, Europe seems determined to get human rights, civil liberties, and tolerance issues right.
About This Entry
You are reading "The Futility of Legislating Morality", an entry posted on 02 September 2009 by Rick Steves.