Stop Blaming Sofia Vergara for Your Objectification of Her

The internet got upset during Monday night’s Emmy Awards, when Sofia Vergara climbed atop a literal pedestal for a joke about diversity in television. Among some of the bizarre reactions was Huffington Post: “A very troubling turn.” Jezebel: “She was treated like a literal object.” Salon: “A bizarre, objectifying Emmy moment.” The Today Show quoted one person saying, “Sofia Vergara is the highest paid actress on TV and they just made a joke of her.”

But what really objectifies Vergara more: Her choosing to climb atop a rotating platform to mock television’s tokenism and shallowness? Or someone describing what happened as the Emmys making a joke of her?

If rotation, elevation, and a tight-fitting dress means viewers and commentators can no longer see Vergara as a subject, capable of making choices and satirizing her chosen field, that hardly seems like her fault. In fact, generally speaking, it’s not a good cultural norm to move responsibility for what goes on in one person’s head to another person.

The difference between an object and a subject is agency. A subject acts, chooses; an object is acted upon. A subject owns and is responsible for, if nothing else, herself. An object is owned and bears no responsibility. There’s a neat little agency trick in blaming Vergara for her own objectification. It removes the agency from where it belongs to where it doesn’t. The only thoughts Vergara should be held responsible for are her own.

Perhaps the most ironic thing about the way many feminists gripe about objectification is that it has the exact same problems as modesty exhortations. Both transfer responsibility for what goes on in men’s heads to women. Feminists have rightly pointed out that the problem of modesty culture is that it makes women responsible for men’s sexual thoughts about them. Women are then in the no-win situation of being required by the culture to look attractive to men, to dress femininely, but to not look too attractive, or wear anything too revealing, lest the put thoughts in men’s heads that shouldn’t be there. Of course what’s too revealing is never described well enough for women to know where to draw the line.

The exact same thing is true when we blame women for other people’s objectification of them. It, again, transfers blame from the person doing the objectifying onto the woman being objectified. It’s, again, a no-win situation for women. And how exactly are women supposed to know when they’re objectifying themselves? Sexy dress is okay. Joking is okay. But get a spinning pedestal involved, and suddenly, self-objectification!

Because what we mean by objectification someone ignoring someone else’s agency, self-objectification doesn’t really even make sense.

The same thing happened to Miley Cyrus at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards. The conservative Independent Women’s Forum decided to slut-shame Miley Cyrus, blaming her for any objectification which might have happened because she twerked in a nude bikini. “She shouldn’t over-sexualize herself because it undermines her talent, her accomplishments, and her natural beauty –- and it reverses the conversation about women back to their bodies,” the op-ed proclaimed.

Here’s the fundamental issue: As soon as you’ve decided that you can dismiss what a woman is saying based on poorly-defined-but-rigidly-enforced rules about what she should be putting in or on her body, or putting her body on, you’re the one objectifying.

Vergara stepped up on that pedestal because she had something to say about her industry. If you can’t hear it over the sound of her beautiful body, that is your malfunction.

So what’s to be done about this malfunction? It’s simply true that some people have a difficult time seeing someone as a sexual being and a full person at the same time. One solution is to hide away women’s sexuality. We can tell Vergara to wear a looser dress, or step off the pedestal. Burqas are further along the exact same train of thought.

Another solution is to encourage women to wear what they want, joke about what they want, climb on top of what they want, and educate men and women that regardless of what a woman is wearing or where she’s standing, she’s a real person with real thoughts and feelings. More importantly, the solution to objectification requires we first recognize that no matter what, each person is solely responsible for what happens in their own heads.

For those who reduced Vergara to an object because she climbed onto a pedestal for a joke, that is entirely their failing, not hers.

This post originally appeared at Mediaite.


Paul Ryan and the GOP’s Changing Tune on Poverty

Recently in the Wall Street Journal, Paul Ryan had a touching, personal story about his changed attitudes on American poverty. Ryan discusses how he came to realize that rhetoric around welfare that reduces people to “makers and takers” is narrow-minded, inaccurate and offensive. It’s an important thing for Ryan, and the GOP, to realize. But Ryan and his party also need to go deeper into another insight the piece hints at, but doesn’t fully explore. Federal poverty programs may be woefully mismanaged and inefficient. But in America it’s not the poor who are going to bankrupt us, but the rich.

Whether it’s a GOP Senate candidate comparing food stamp recipients to “wild animals” or a GOP candidate for Arizona state representative saying slavery “wasn’t so bad” and “kept business rolling,” one would need to be pretty far underground to not see why the Republican party needs to work on its rhetoric around poverty. Over and over again, Republicans are having to apologize for stunts like suggesting that students from poor homes clean their schools in exchange for reduced price lunches. Even mainstream Republican ideas, such as drug testing welfare recipients, have been shown to be more class warfare than smart lawmaking. The programs cost more money than they save. They’re also unconstitutional, which you’d think would bother conservatives more than drugs.

Mitt Romney himself admitted that tapes which revealed him talking smack about “the 47%” who receive more in benefits than they pay in taxes severely hurt his campaign.

And this divisive, insulting rhetoric has impacted Republicans’ ability to effectively reach Black and Latino voters. The Economist looked into what the GOP has done to court these voting blocs and how it’s turned out. The answers are, a ton, and, pretty poorly. The article points to McKay Coppins of BuzzFeed reporting that the RNC announced early in 2013 intentions to spend “$10 million on an ambitious minority engagement initiative,” and to hire hired “at least 42 black and Latino field representatives, spreading them across the country in key states with the mandate to lay a permanent groundwork for future Republican candidates.” Furthermore, “They have recruited local surrogates, identified sympathetic business organizations and churches, and organized grassroots voter contacting. At the national level, Priebus has spoken at black colleges and given interviews to minority media outlets, preaching a gospel of inclusion and diversity.”

And for what? The Economist points out, rather depressingly, that the odds of winning a Mega Millions prize are better than getting a black person to vote for Mitt Romney.

And why? Well part of it is that Black and Latino voters first have always been much more likely to be in poverty, and second the recession has hit them particularly hard. The unemployment rate for Black college graduates aged 22-27 in 2013 was more than double college grads of all races. And that rate nearly tripled between 2007 and 2013.

It’s interesting to note, as the Economist does, that “the numbers, as reported by researchers Janelle Jones and John Schmitt, are at least partly attributable to racial discrimination in labour markets.” For example, “In Boston and Chicago, a white-sounding name gets your resume ‘50 percent more call backs from potential employers than [do] resumes with black sounding names.’ In law firms, partners are ‘more likely to point out spelling, grammar, and technical errors when under the impression the author was black.’”

Rhetoric, and policy, which blames poor people for being poor instead of addressing systemic barriers to class mobility will always fail with people who are paying attention.

Which is what Paul Ryan came to understand. He describes being at a county fair and having his own “makers and takers” rhetoric thrown in his face. “That day at the fair was the first time I really heard the way the phrase sounded,” he writes. “The phrase gave insult where none was intended. People struggling and striving to get ahead—that’s what our country is all about. On that journey, they’re not ‘takers’; they’re trying to make something of themselves. We shouldn’t disparage that.”

Exactly. And then he gets to the really good stuff. “Over the years, we’ve slowly been adding to the number of benefits that government provides to an increasing number of our citizens. Some of those benefits are worthy, laudable commitments, but others aren’t really the responsibility of government or the kind of thing we can afford.”

Ryan doesn’t specify what government benefits “aren’t really the responsibility of government or the kind of thing we can afford.” Certainly he outlined many ineffective and wasteful anti-poverty programs in his anti-poverty plan. But what he hasn’t touched in a while are the least effective and most wasteful government benefits programs in the history of the United States: Social Security and Medicare.

Not that he hasn’t touched on these fiscal and moral disasters before. He’s done everything from submitting budgets which slash them to outlining plans to privatize them. First, because they are financially insolvent and therefore will stop paying out benefits sooner or later, and getting ahead of the curve is obviously better policy. But also because together, they are the single biggest contributor to our unsustainable national debt. Nothing touches entitlement spending, and the vast majority of that is Social Security and Medicare.

Then there’s the moral issue. While most federal anti-poverty programs are inefficient and ineffective, at least they move money from rich to poor. Social Security and Medicare do the opposite. They are generational warfare and incredibly regressive, taking money from the young and relatively poor and giving it to the old and relatively wealthy. In reality, the “makers and takers” who matter aren’t poor people taking from the rich. The takers who are going to bankrupt us have never touched a welfare check.

When Ryan talks of worthy, laudable commitments, this is of course America’s responsibility to its poor. And when he discusses spending on programs which “aren’t really the responsibility of government or the kind of thing we can afford” he, and others in the GOP, really need to start talking explicitly about entitlement spending. For too long, the GOP has been seen, especially by Blacks and Latinos, as the party of the rich and against the poor. By tackling entitlement spending alongside aside welfare reform, the GOP will first be focusing on the more pressing issue, economically.

But it’s also a great way to challenge perceptions about Republicans and class warfare. And the GOP desperately needs better rhetoric, because they’re the only party with any possibility of reforming the government spending that’s really hurting us.

This post originally appeared at


Why I’m Leaving the Movement

Ha! Got you with one last click-baity headline. Freal tho, I’m leaving full-time liberty-movement work to do sales at a software directory company.

Before I go into the why and such, I just want to first say a massive THANK YOU.

I want to thank first the Charles Koch Institute, then Reason, and last Students For Liberty. Y’all are why I got to come do liberty full-time in the nation’s capital. You helped me escape from Alabama, and live in the big city, and sell the product I’m most passionate about for going on three years and I’m so, so grateful.

Next I want to thank the individual people who reached out to me with comfort, opportunities, encouragement, debate and kindness. I want to thank everyone who ever read me, and especially the people who did so on a regular basis. I want to thank everyone who went out of their way to be in my corner every time internet libertarianism had a meltdown over some minor diversion from libertarian orthodoxy. I want to thank the people who shared my work. I want to thank the people who gave me a shot. And I especially want to thank the kick-ass girls who have told me that I’m part of why they’re involved in libertarianism. Y’all have made it all worthwhile. Yes, libertarians can be the worst, but on the whole, this movement has treated me very, very well. Far better than my level of talent and charisma deserves.

I mean, in the past year I got to go on national TV twice, get quoted in the New York Times Magazine, make David Frum cry, create another web show, get published in The Week, the Daily Beast, the Huffington Post, VICE Motherboard and other places. I set up my second weekly column, after Thoughts on Liberty, at I spoke at tons of conferences, and appeared on tons of podcasts and radio shows. I got in a million online arguments about some really interesting topics. I have fans! How fucking insane is that? (very)

So, why leave all that?

I’ve been selling free-market ideas because their adoption makes creating the conditions necessary to innovation easier. And innovation begets prosperity. It’s easier to sell respect for private property, etc. when people understand how it’s helpful. If more people understand why fewer regulations make people more prosperous, hopefully we’ll get fewer regulations.

So those are the necessary conditions for innovation. But we still need innovation. It is what advances human prosperity. It’s the only way to get more out of the same amount, to grow the pie, as it were.

Basically, I’m leaving one side, creating the conditions, to work on the other side, the actual innovation. I’m not an innovator, but innovators need sales to disrupt markets. That’s where I want to come in.

I’m learning sales skills in the tech space to eventually grow disruptive innovators like Uber, or SpaceX, or peer-to-peer, decentralized payments systems, or encryption.

In addition, that side is certainly more lucrative. The market has spoken, and the demand relative to supply of libertarian commentators is low. I’m so incredibly blessed to have been able to make opining about markets and editing and placing others’ opinions about markets my full-time work, and to make enough to live in the most expensive city in the country and very occasionally even eat out or go to a happy hour. SFL kept me in drugs for a whole year as a professional libertarian, and I’m so very grateful.

But, at some point you want more than the occasional happy hour. You want some security. And all the paths to becoming any kind of decently-paid pundit or public intellectual require partisanship or going to grad school, or both. I think we all know my feels on the two major parties, and I’d rather make money than spend it.

All I wanted to do when I started out was sell liberty. I’ve done some of that. There are a few, at least, amazing people who are in the liberty movement, in part, because of my scribblings.

I have to admit that it’s been hard, psychologically. I’ve not been able to always stay positive in the face of negativity. I’ve been quick to get combative. To forget to assume good intentions. While I’ve thrown off parts of my ideological past, I find certain parts of that old skin are still sticky, and I wrestle with them, in public. And with anyone who seems to embody what I hate about who I was.

I’ve thought about getting into sales for years, since before coming to DC to start work at Reason. Truth be told, my media work, as well as pitching editors, has done an enormous amount toward making me ready for this job. I think sales, in a lot of ways, is life. Learning to meet needs, to build trust, and relationships, quickly, to mirror and empathize and be positive and friendly, these are all things I want to learn. I get my meaning, as I think most people do, through human connection. I want to learn to connect better. And getting successful at sales will require humility and constant feedback, and self-improvement is so incredibly important to building a happy life.

So I’m going to continue writing, a little, at least. Probably just on this blog, unless someone wants to give me a paid column. And then I’ll repub here. Hell, I might start writing about sales. Lord knows libertarians need to learn how to sell their ideas.

I hope if you’ve been reading me, you continue to. I hope to keep having really interesting conversations, if for fewer hours a day. I hope the people who are good at it continue their work in this movement. I hope the ideas of a free society continue to flourish and grab hold of young minds.

I’ll still be grinding away at building prosperity for everyone, but now I can include myself. I’m really excited.


Police Are Arresting Reporters, Seizing Cameras and Assaulting Protesters in Ferguson

Wednesday night, police in Ferguson, MO were lobbing Super-Sock cartridges into the crowds gathered to protest the fatal shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown. Brown was shot eight times, witnesses say he had his hands in the air. He was shot several times in the back.


At the same time, police were tear gassing reporters with Al-Jazeera America and taking apart their video equipment so they could not record the police’s actions.



They were also arresting Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery, and Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly. The Federal Aviation Authority declared Ferguson a no-fly zone, preventing news crews from filming aerially.


The Economist:


The shooting comes not long after Eric Garner, another black man, was killed during a choke-hold arrest in New York. Last year an unarmed man called Jonathan Ferrell was shot ten times by a North Carolina police officer. “People are asking: ‘Is it open season on us?’,” says Delores Jones-Brown, director of the John Jay College on Race, Crime and Justice.

Jackie Summers: The Civil Rights Act is 50 years old. These two pictures were taken 50 years apart. Behold our progress. #Ferguson


This post originally appeared in

Correction: It appears from other reporting that Brown was shot six times, and none in the back.


Why It’s Time to Legalize Prostitution

And the radio interview I did on the piece:

Evidence shows that it would protect sex workers, reduce violence, cut down on sex trafficking, and more. There’s no good reason not to.


A prostitute has a 45 percent to 75 percent chance of experiencing workplace violence at some point, according to recent research indicates, and a 32 percent to 55 percent likelihood that she or he was victimized the past year. Worker safety, along with concerns about exploitation and objectification, are behind much of the continued support for keeping prostitution illegal.

But there’s a movement afoot to challenge conventional wisdom about prohibition. Or, rather, to incorporate what we already know about black markets into our thinking about sex workers and their rights.

As with the drug trade, much of the violence associated with sex work is exacerbated by its illegality. Violent people are more likely to prey on sex workers, confident that they won’t be reported to police. This leaves workers dependent on pimps and madams for protection, which often leads to more violence. And then there’s abuse from police. In Ireland, where prostitution is still criminalized, one study estimates that 30 percent of the abuse that sex workers report comes from police. Some estimate that police actually abuse American sex workers more often than clients do.

Illegality also forces sex work outdoors. Craigslist and Backpage should be havens for workers to connect with and vet clients from the safety of their homes. Instead, cops monitor such sites to ensnare workers and their clients. Sex workers traded safety tips and rated clients on My Redbook until the FBIseized the site, destroying the data and forcing sex workers onto other sites, or the streets.

After Germany and New Zealand legalized sex work, violence against sex workersdecreased, while workers’ quality of life improved. There, occupational health and safety laws protect sex workers. And the ability to screen clients and take credit card numbers has reduced violence. “It’s been just fantastic, really,” saidCatherine Healey, national coordinator for the New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective.

Some worry about legalized sex work leading to more widespread sexually transmitted infections. But in reality, after testing began post-legalization in Germany, researchers discovered no difference in sexually transmitted infection rates between sex workers and the general population.

In fact, the data are pretty clearly in favor of legalizing sex work to improve public health. The World Health Organization recommends that countries decriminalize sex work. According to a recent WHO report, “Violence against sex workers is associated with inconsistent condom use or lack of condom use, and with increased risk of STI and HIV infection. Violence also prevents sex workers from accessing HIV information and services.”

It’s not just the WHO. Editors of the top medical journal The Lancet wrote that there is “no alternative” to decriminalizing sex work in order to protect sex workers from HIV. In 1980, Rhode Island effectively legalized prostitution by accident when lawmakers deemed the state statute on prostitution to be overly broad. They accidentally removed the section defining the act itself as a crime while attempting to revise it, though lawmakers didn’t realize the error until 2003. Over the next six years new cases of gonorrhea among women statewide declined by 39 percent. Interestingly, reported rapes also declined by 31 percent.

As far as worker exploitation goes, working conditions in black markets are nearly always worse. In Germany, sex workers get to avail themselves of the same social-welfare infrastructure as all other German workers. Perhaps it makes sense that a country that has always taken workers’ rights seriously would choose that it should no longer exempt sex workers. There, they are represented by a union and are afforded full police protection when something goes wrong.

Another huge impetus behind the movement to legalize sex work is the current focus on ending the scourge of sex trafficking. People are waking up to the fact that laws against sex work actually help human traffickers. This is why the U.N. Human Rights Council published a report from the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women which criticizes anti-trafficking measures which restrict sex workers.

According to the report, “The criminalization of clients has not reduced trafficking or sex work, but has increased sex workers’ vulnerability to violence, harmed HIV responses, and infringed on sex workers’ rights.”

Furthermore, it said, “Anti-trafficking discussions on demand have historically been stymied by anti-prostitution efforts to eradicate the sex work sector by criminalizing clients, despite protests from sex workers’ rights groups and growing evidence that such approaches do not work.”

Human rights powerhouse Amnesty International concurs: “Amnesty International is opposed to the criminalization or punishment of activities related to the buying or selling of consensual sex between adults.” Thus begins a recently leaked document calling for an end to prohibitions on sex work. Criminalization discourages sex workers from reporting suspected sex trafficking to police.

Working with instead of against sex workers will lead to more slaves being rescued. In Germany, it already is. While prohibitionists claim that legalizing prostitution has increased human trafficking in the country, the data don’t support them. In fact the opposite happened. Germany legalized sex work in 2001. Between 2001 and 2011, cases of sex-based human trafficking shrank by 10 percent.

Now most German sex workers, 74 percent, are foreign born. But these migrant workers are hardly child sex slaves. The mean age of a sex worker in Germany is 31. A massive study of the sex trade in New York revealed a similar pattern. Researchers found very few underage sex workers actually working. When they started talking to pimps they found many won’t work with underage sex workers, not because of fear of arrest or moral qualms, but because teen workers don’t make enough money.

The claim that legalizing prostitution increased human trafficking also defies common sense. Whether you think bargain basement blowjobs are a good thing or a bad thing, the fact remains that criminalization makes things more expensive. In Germany, you’ll still pay a lot for high-quality service. But the days of paying more than 15 Euros for sex from someone who clearly doesn’t want to be there are over. Time spoke to one tourist who described the country as “The Aldi for prostitutes.”

This matters for trafficking because it costs a lot to kidnap someone and hold her against her will. This new economic reality means it makes zero sense for traffickers to keep their slaves in Germany, where prices are low. It’s true that traffickers must bring their victims through the country. But they are rewarded with higher prices if they keep going until they get to one of the countries where prostitution is still illegal, like France.

One other big movement behind the push for legalization is, ironically, feminism. Specifically, a new kind of feminism that acknowledges and seeks to defend women’s agency from all encroachments.

Much of the energy behind keeping sex work relegated to the black market comes from the unlikely partnership between radical feminists and evangelical Christians, both of whom object to the way prostitution makes the economics of sex explicit. Both see sex work as a special kind of work. Both put sex in a special category, that is, to be done with only certain people, under certain circumstances, among which they do not include “customers” and “for money.”

Stuart Chambers in the Montreal Gazette makes an excellent case that people’s impulse to put sex for money in a different category than sex for dinner or sex for an orgasm is the same impulse that led doctors and scientists to pathologize masturbation and homosexuality. That is, some people see sex that makes them uncomfortable to think about as wrong for other people to have.

Sex-positive feminists, on the other hand, argue that prohibitionists take this idea of sex being “special” too far when they mandate, through law, that everyone put sex in a special category.

Ultimately it should be up to the individual woman, or man, to decide whether having sex with someone is in an entirely different category than making them a latte or giving them a massage. This new feminism recognizes that some people would really rather have their feet worshipped in a brothel than work in a factory to make rent. It recognizes that sex work is exploitative. Workers are exploiting the fact that they have something someone else wants. Clients are exploiting the fact that they have something the sex worker wants. But, then, all work is exploitative.

This post originally appeared in the Daily Beast.


Obama Should Fire Brennan, His Reputation Could Hardly Get Worse

In the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf lays out both the reasons why President Obama should fire CIA director John Brennan, and the reasons why it would be dangerous for him to do so. Essentially, they’ve both been doing some really shady stuff, regarding both the US Constitution and international law, which they’ve both been covering up and lying about. Firing Brennan could bring more of these activities into the light, which would hurt Obama’s reputation. However, what we already know about Obama should eviscerate any shred of respectability he might have in anyone’s mind.

Brennan is currently under fire for bugging the computers of the Senate committee tasked with investigating the legality of CIA “enhanced interrogation” techniques. The CIA was mining Senators’ computers and emails to gather information on the investigation so they could begin working to discredit their reports. Brennan also lied to the Senate Intelligence Committee about it, saying, “That’s just beyond the scope of reason in terms of what we would do.”

Now he’s apologized, weeks ahead of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report. It’s expected to be a scathing indictment of the CIA, showing that they exaggerated the effectiveness of enhanced interrogation techniques to the public,fed journalists fake “leaks” and lied to members of Congress, downplaying the brutality of their information extraction practices and the extent to which they used them.

Now several Senators and even the New York Times editorial board is calling for his resignation. As Friedersdorf points out, Brennan’s CIA “broke laws and undermined the separation of powers core to our democracy.”

While firing Brennan would be the best thing for the American people, it would also open up the possibility that he would start talking. He could talk about Obama’s secret drone killing program.

The President has repeatedly illegally used the state secrets justification to prevent information about extrajudicial killings from coming out into the public. Even Congress isn’t properly briefed on who Obama is killing or why. Obama blocked the release of a memo on the justification for killing two American citizens without trial, even though upon its eventual releaseit became clear that the information posed no threat to US safety. So the President is trampling on the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution and then refusing to acknowledge it or explain what the legal justification might be.

The latest abuse of the state secrets privilege is Obama’s DOJ refusing to explainwhy they’re refusing to allow a PhD student back into the US. And what was the reason both for the refusal to let Rahinah Ibrahim back in the country and for refusing to acknowledge why she wasn’t allowed? An FBI agent had checked the wrong box. The “state secret” was a coverup for incompetence.

The entire drone war in Pakistan could only be legal if the country consented to the killings, and there’s little evidence it has, and public statements indicate it hasn’t.

NSA spying has far exceeded its legal and Constitutional bounds and President Obama has lied about both the scope of the spying and what he knew and when. Trade alliances with allies such as Germany are in jeopardy because of NSA spying, and along with them billions of dollars in economic growth.

In fact, as NSA director James Clapper has repeatedly lied to Congress, with zero reproach from the Obama Administration, the only way anyone knows anything about just how far illegal NSA wiretapping and surveillance of American citizens who have not been accused of any crimes has gone is due to whistleblowers like Edward Snowden. And how has the Obama Administration, the “most transparent administration in history” dealt with these heroic individuals, the only check against lying and law-breaking government agencies? The Administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than any administration in US history.

I guess what I don’t get is what in the world John Brennan could reveal about President Obama which could possibly tarnish his reputation any further. He’s literally trampling on the Constitution, killing citizens without trial, disregarding the Fourth Amendment and allowing his goons to lie about it with zero consequences. And that’s what we know about! Fire John Brennan, Obama. You can’t get any lower.

This post originally appeared in


With or Without the Subsidies, Obamacare May Fall Apart

The Obamacare subsidies depend on Halbig’s outcome, and whether millions of Americans can afford their healthcare plans depends on the subsidies. At least, that’s the narrative. Commentators warn of a coming “death spiral” of extraordinary costs and insufficient incoming premiums as people cancel their plans without the subsidies. But what they’re ignoring is that Obamacare is on track to fail regardless of what the court decides.

What people aren’t grappling with is that with or without the subsidies, health insurance under Obamacare is simply too expensive. The hundreds of pills and procedures every insurance plan is now federally required to cover has bloated premiums beyond what most Americans want to, or often can, pay. That’s why Obamacare subsidizes the plans.

The whole point of Obamacare was supposedly to make health insurance more affordable. The problem is that Obama’s promise that “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan,” never squared with his plan to replace so-called catastrophic care plans with comprehensive coverage. Companies can’t cover breast implants and Viagra for the same price as covering cancer and car wrecks only.

Subsidies were the answer for affordable care. The federal government pays up to 100 percent of the premiums for certain insurance plans for people with low incomes. In total, the administration claims 6.7 million people will receive tax credits to pay their premiums and 70 percent, or 4.7 million, are using a federal exchange.

However, even with Medicaid expansion and subsidies, Obamacare still failed spectacularly to reduce premiums. Instead of reducing what every American family pays for health insurance by $2,500 per year, as candidate Obamapromised in 2008, insurance premiums increased for millions of Americans once Obamacare made their existing plans illegal. Families can expect to pay 32% more per year to stay covered under Obamacare. And that’s with the subsidies.

Money for subsidies has to come from somewhere. Here’s where things really get tricky for Obamacare. The entire premise is that, even with subsidies, young, healthy people’s premiums will subsidize care for the sick and elderly. Turns out that young people don’t really want to do that. And why should they? The plan hoses young, relatively poor people right when they least need high bills for services they’re not using. And it helps older, relatively rich people who should be able to afford the care they need.

Nick Gillespie and Veronique de Rugy have pointed out for Reason magazine that today’s seniors are far wealthier than today’s young adults. While, 36% of millennials are still living under their parents’ roof, 83% of elderly households own a home. Poverty rates for those over 65 years of age are much lower than most other demographics. Households headed by people 65 or older have 22 times the wealth of households headed by people under 35.

Not only are many young people either unemployed or underemployed, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates that people under 40 owe 67% of the roughly $1.4 trillion that Americans owe on school loans. That’s on top of an average of several thousand dollars of credit card debt.

Obamacare forces people who can scarcely afford the extra cost to subsidize care for people who absolutely can afford to pay for their own health services. Obamacare’s solvency also requires that people who aren’t eligible for subsidies sign up. That, too, doesn’t really appear to be happening. Shockingly, people aren’t into paying a lot for services other people use more than they do. The plan will fail to reach solvency because it’s too expensive for the very people the plan needs on board in order to stay solvent.

Obamacare only works if many more young, healthy, and wealthy people get insured than were insured previously. Instead, Obamacare has only reduced the percentage of uninsured Americans by 3%, from a peak of 18 percent last year to 15 percent. And most of the signups are sick, poor, old people.

If the Administration prevails, 7.3 million people will continue to get subsidies, according to recent analysis from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.According to the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation, 83% of Obamacare plans are subsidized to some extent. Subsidizing the vast majority of health insurance plans without signing up a lot of new, healthy, unsubsidized payers simply does not work out, mathematically.

The Halbig case is certainly interesting. But even if the Administration gets its way, they’re a long way from out of the woods when it comes to Obamacare.

This post originally appeared in LibertyChat.


Walking the Red-Light District

On the last day of my recent trip to Germany, I’d wanted to check out Deutschland’s brothels. The focus of my writing on sex work has been U.S.-centric thus far. So I wanted to speak to someone participating in sex work in a country where it’s legal. I was running out of time and euros, but it just so happened that the quickest route to my hotel after drinks with locals included an area known for its ladies of the night.

As we walked down a hookah-bar-lined street, the sex workers looked more empowered than any I’ve seen stateside. Tall and healthy-looking, with thick hair and thin waists, beautiful corsets shaping hourglasses, they certainly didn’t look oppressed—except perhaps by four-inch platform Lucite heels. (Those oppress any wearer.)

On our walk I learned that Germany’s decision to legalize prostitution not only helped sex workers, but actually decreased the number of human trafficking victims in the country. But on our stroll, one of my companions told me that German feminists are trying to recriminalize sex work. This is a mistake, she argued. Legalization has improved sex workers’ lives.

Turns out, she was right. According to the data, violence against sex workers is down, while sex workers’ quality of life is up. And after testing began, post-legalization, researchers discovered no difference in sexually transmitted infection rates between sex workers and the general population.

Opponents claim legalizing prostitution has actually increased human trafficking in the country. But the data don’t support that claim. In fact, they show the opposite. From 2001, the year the law legalizing sex work in Germany was passed, to 2011, cases of sex-based human trafficking shrank by 10 percent.

It’s true that most German sex workers, 74 percent, are foreign born. However, Germany generally has a high immigration rate. Only 81 percent of people living in Germany were born there. Interestingly, right about when Germany legalized sex work, Eastern European countries joined the European Union, economic crises hit post-communist countries, and globalization increased immigration flows. But these migrant workers are hardly child sex slaves. The mean age of a sex worker in Germany is 31.
Besides not being supported by data, the claim that legalizing prostitution increased human trafficking also defies common-sense economics. Legalization has brought about reduced prices for sex acts people demand. Sure, one might still pay a lot for high-quality service. And as I learned on this trip, nothing is cheap in Germany. But the days of paying more than 15 euros for sex from someone who clearly doesn’t want to be there are over. Time Magazine spoke to one tourist who described the country as “the Aldi for prostitutes.”

Whether you think such sexual transactions are a good thing or a bad thing, the fact remains that criminalization makes things more expensive. And price drives pimps to find new ways to satisfy demand. Prices matter for trafficking because it costs a lot to kidnap someone and hold them against their will. The economic realities of legalization have brought about a situation in which it makes no sense for traffickers to keep their human chattel in Germany, where prices are lower. While it’s true that traffickers bring their victims through the country as a corridor, they normally keep going until they get to one of the countries where prostitution is still illegal, like France, where prices are higher.

In Germany, the sex workers are workers, not slaves. For a country that has always taken workers’ rights seriously (certainly more so than civil liberties) sex work is no exception. Workers there are represented by a union and are afforded full police protection when something goes wrong.

The importance of this benefit of legalization simply cannot be overstated. Violence is far more likely when violators know they won’t likely be reported.

And then there’s police abuse by sex workers worldwide: In Ireland, where prostitution is still criminalized, one study estimates that 30 percent of the abuse sex workers report comes from police. And “in South Africa,” writes Fordham human rights professor Chi Mgbako, “police officers often fine sex workers inordinate sums of money and pocket the cash, resulting in a pattern of economic extortion of sex workers by state agents.” Mgbako adds: “South African sex workers report that police confiscate condoms to use as evidence of prostitution; demand sexual favors in exchange for release from jail or to avoid arrest; physically assault and rape sex workers; actively encourage or passively condone inmate sexual abuse of transgender female sex workers assigned to male prison cells; and use municipal laws to harass and arrest sex workers even when they’re engaged in activities unrelated to prostitution.” Of course, prostitutes are abused in the United States as well.

Some German feminists want to criminalize demand instead of supply, which makes sense on the surface. Why lock up the women, but not the men? The Swedish did exactly that, using a new twist on an old idea, fighting trafficking by criminalizing prostitution. They passed laws that prevented sex workers from working together, recommending each other’s customers, advertising or working from property they rent or own, or even cohabitating with a partner.
The result was sex workers enduring harassment instead of help from police and being forced to undergo invasive searches. Sex workers in Sweden were made to testify against their customers and ended up relying more on their pimps to find clients.

And the result was no change in the number of sex workers or their customers.

The truth is that laws against sex work actually help human traffickers. This is why the UN Human Rights Council published a report from the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women that criticizes anti-trafficking measures that restrict sex workers.

According to the report, “Sex workers are negatively impacted by anti-trafficking measures.” Specifically, “The criminalisation of clients has not reduced trafficking or sex work, but has increased sex workers’ vulnerability to violence, harmed HIV responses, and infringed on sex workers’ rights.”

Furthermore, “Anti-trafficking discussions on demand have historically been stymied by anti-prostitution efforts to eradicate the sex work sector by criminalising clients, despite protests from sex workers rights groups and growing evidence that such approaches do not work.”

Sure enough, my very brief encounter with German sex workers seem to bolster that view.

This post originally appeared in The Freeman.


How Government Is Making Black Markets as Dangerous As Humanly Possible

Just as the internet has revolutionized nearly aspect of everyday life, it’s revolutionized the so-called informal economy as well. Online marketplaces have made life far safer for people whose desires take them outside the bounds of legal protection. Which is why it’s so disturbing that government agencies are effectively turning back the clock, and shutting down websites that are helping keep people safe.

By shutting down Silk Road, My Redbook, and kicking people out of their banks through Operation Choke Point, the FBI and DOJ are increasing the levels of violence and usury people must endure, while trampling on speech rights and violating due process at the same time.

The logic behind criminalizing voluntary transactions has always been a little hazy. Generally speaking, pushing interactions into the black market, where police protection and contract resolution must be done without the state, results in more violence. And the results of criminalizing cooperative behavior have been pretty uniformly poor. Banning things doesn’t make people stop doing them, it just makes it much more dangerous for them to do so.

Online bazaar Silk Road helped ameliorate some of that danger by, essentially, replacing broken knee caps with bad user reviews. Instead of fighting for turf, retailers gathered positive feedback from buyers and bolstered demand by sending their drugs to independent testers who would confirm purity, strength, even type. As an aside, my first date when I tried polyamory many moons ago was with one such tester. He was a med student who would review Psilocybin for Silk Road buyers. What a beautiful system!

The entire premise of the drug war is supposed to be public safety. And yet, the market found a way to let people buy and sell drugs in a completely safe manner. To date there is zero violence that can be traced back to the Silk Road. While the alleged operator was accused of murder-for-hire when he was arrested, those charges have since been dropped.

But instead of applauding helpful entrepreneurs for solving an important public safety problem, the FBI instead seized Silk Road, an entirely legal marketplace, selling a variety of goods and services, only some of which were illegal. And it did so before convicting its alleged owner of any crime.

The result has been a new fun game of internet drug marketplace whack-a-mole. Of course the FBI isn’t going to stop people from buying and selling drugs online. But every time one of these sites is seized without due process, all the relationships between trusted buyers and sellers and user data must be re-established. No one’s safer, but everyone is inconvenience, and every time more people end up rotting in prison for nonviolent offenses.

Now the exact same thing is happening with My Redbook, a website where sex workers share health and safety information and to find clients in a safe environment. Again, most of the violence associated with selling sex results from criminalization. Violence is much more likely when a perpetrator knows a victim won’t call police. Online marketplaces such as My Redbook make work safer for prostitutes. Outdoor work requires snap judgments, and climbing into the car with total strangers. The web makes screening clients far easier, and puts the worker in greater control of where liaisons happen.

So how has the FBI responded to this boon to worker safety? The agency seized the website and shut it down before convicting anyone of any crime. Again, running a health and safety website with forums people can use to find clients is not illegal.

In between the seizures of Silk Road and My Redbook, the DOJ began Operation Choke Point. The purpose seems to be to dump people operating in legal gray areas into the gray market. As a result of pressure from the DOJ, big banks are dropping customers such as gun sellers and sex workers, closing their accounts and forcing them to find banking services elsewhere. Of course elsewhere is the world of online banking, where fees and interest rates are higher than traditional banks.

Again, it’s difficult to see how anyone is safer as a result of having to use an online bank instead of a traditional one.

There is real violence associated with drugs, guns, and sex work. All of it happens in the real world, where bodies meet bodies. Seizing websites and threatening banks into dumping customers does absolutely nothing to solve the problem of real-world violence. In fact, it counteracts the benefits of moving these marketplaces online. Shutting down a legal website before convicting the owner of any crime also violates his or her speech rights and deprives them of due process.

Physical safety for citizens should be the goal of law enforcement. As such, law enforcement should not only let online marketplaces and forums and banks do their jobs in peace, but perhaps even encourage street vendors to move online. Eliminating transactions by shutting down websites is as ineffective as it is illegal. The goal instead should be to make transactions as safe as possible.

This piece originally appeared at