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


U.S. spying may cost the U.S. economy billions

Talk about bad timing.

This week marked the start of renewed negotiations for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the European Union and the U.S. And mere days before that, the German federal prosecutor’s office confirmed that it is investigating another possible case of U.S. spying in Germany. Imagine being at the TTIP negotiating table with that elephant in the room.

Billions upon billions of dollars in potential economic growth for both Germany and the U.S. are at stake with this free trade agreement. Forbes notes that “one study, done for the EU, concluded that a comprehensive trans-Atlantic trade and investment agreement would add $122 billion annually to the American economy and $150 billion annually to the European economy.”

But now European anger over U.S. spying may put this landmark deal in serious jeopardy.

TTIP is complex and multifaceted, but essentially it is an attempt to reduce trade barriers and streamline regulations. Let’s focus on just a couple tiny slivers of it to get a sense of how important it could be to economies on both sides of the Atlantic. Simply standardizing regulatory differences between the EU and the U.S. could yield tremendous gains. For example, Germany mandates that blinker lights on cars must be orange. The U.S. mandates they must be red. This discrepancy creates an artificial and useless barrier to trade. Former congressman and WTO official James Bacchus calculated that streamlining these kinds of regulations by just 25 percent could increase combined GDP by $106 billion.

Another example: The U.S. and EU require different models of crash test dummies for car safety tests, even though the dummies ultimately accomplish the same goal. For carmakers, this means doing the same tests twice, adding significantly to the cost of the cars. Studies have found that differing auto safety standards end up adding about 25 percent to the costs of American cars sold in the EU.

In the midst of a tepid U.S. economic recovery, an agreement like TTIP would provide everyone with a much-needed economic boost. The benefits to eased and increased trade between countries really cannot be overstated.

And that’s why now is such a bad time for the world to learn that a German soldier may have been passing information to U.S. military intelligence, acting as an alleged double agent in Germany’s BND foreign intelligence service, according to media reports.

No wonder 70 percent of Germans characterize the U.S. as “power-hungry.” In addition, majorities of Germans describe the U.S. as arrogant and reckless. Germans are incredibly disappointed in President Obama. Based on Obama’s “hope and change” campaign rhetoric and promises of “the most transparent administration in history”, millions of people throughout Europe expected a radical departure from the hawkish policies of President Bush. Instead, they have become increasingly disillusioned with Obama over the depth and breadth of NSA spying — including the spying on U.S. allies like Germany revealed by NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

That included recruiting German officials to spy on Germany for the U.S., tapping Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone, and monitoring around half a billion telephone calls, emails, and text messages in the country every month.

And now, many in German politics are using outrage over such snooping revelations to hold TTIP hostage.

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, Merkel’s former justice minister and a member of the traditionally pro-American Free Democratic Party, said she wanted free-trade negotiations to be put on ice and Edward Snowden — whose leaks informed Germany of the spying — to be granted the right to stay in Germany.

“We can’t go on like this,” Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said. “The Americans know no boundaries. They will only understand a clear message.”

But it’s Germany’s Green Party that is taking the lead on TTIP opposition. Berlin must “take a more resolute approach to the U.S. government,” said Katrin Göring-Eckardt, head of the Green Party’s parliamentary group. That has already meant expelling U.S. intelligence operatives from the country. But it could also mean expanding counterespionage against the U.S., and, of course, blocking TTIP.

The White House isn’t budging. The Obama administration recently rejected a proposed “no-spy” agreement between Washington and Berlin. And the administration is resisting any potential legal constraints on its foreign intelligence collection, citing worries that other countries would ask for similar treatment.

The diplomatic toll of spying on friendly nations led by friendly leaders is considerable. The German people are now justifiably distrustful and upset with their American allies. And the unwillingness on the part of the U.S. to put any limits on spying or provide any transparency about who is being targeted or why further divides the U.S. from its allies.

However, with TTIP now in the balance, the toll is no longer just diplomatic, but financial as well. Billions of dollars in economic growth are at stake. So far, the Obama administration has offered no satisfactory justification for surreptitious foreign intelligence gathering in Germany. With the costs of spying this high, explanation and justification are the least that we, Americans and Germans alike, deserve.

This post originally appeared at The Week.


Netroots Nation and Liberal Populism Key to Defeating Hillary

Last week Netroots Nation, formerly Yearly Kos, went down in the city that best represents how well a corrupt, overweening government can respond to changing economic conditions. Detroit, Michigan hosted a meetup for particularly whiny and net-savvy liberals got together to whine about how the Democratic Party isn’t in touch with the people. And it’s within the belly of this discontent beast that we can see the key to defeating Hillary at the ballot box.

Netroots refers generally to the lefty blogosphere. It’s kind of like the Tea Party of the that side, in that it’s people who are more liberal than mainstream left wingers. For example, when Vice President Joe Biden was speaking, a faction of the audience had to be escorted out for chanting “Stop deporting our families.”

They also take social justice more seriously than mainstream Democrats. A candidate for state representative in Michigan asserted that water is a human right and called on the crowd to call Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s office to stop the water shutoffs for Detroit residents before Biden got up to speak.

But unlike the Tea Party, the average netroot netizen is actually younger than the average Democrat. In 2008, and less so in 2012, this young voter was essential to candidate Barack Obama’s success. He got this voter off their butt and into the booth with his lofty, lefty promises. He promised not to raise taxes one cent on those making under $100,000. He promised to close Guantanamo. He was going to oversee the most transparent administration in history. He would provide a path to citizenship, implement a non-interventionist foreign policy, and stand up to business corruption.

Today, that voter is disillusioned with the Democratic Party. President Barack Obama has been a major disappointment in every single area, and broken nearly every campaign promise he made. His one area of “success,” the policy on which he spent every cent of his political capital, his one accomplishment as a president, ObamaCare, is riddled with hiccups, underperformance, rollbacks, delays, exemptions, and errors. And, as the Netroots Netizen will point out, even if it works as intended, ObamaCare is not single-payer health insurance, which is what liberals want. Instead, ObamaCare is a major handout to those loathsome creatures the health insurance companies. Obama offered the companies every single American citizen on a silver platter. Obama told Americans, “Buy health insurance from these companies, or pay a fine.”

In a way, Hillary Clinton is a boon to the GOP. She’s not even going to try to energize the young, liberal Democratic wing. She has nothing to offer.

She’s a typical tax-and-spend liberal, something young people who are chronically un- and under-employed are not exactly energized by. When Jon Stewart asked Hillary Clinton about her views on America’s foreign policy, she replied, “We have a great story about human freedom, human rights, human opportunity.” There is literally no space between her and whoever the GOP might nominate.

No mention of Guantanamo. No denunciation of extrajudicial killings of American citizens abroad. No drone strikes. No, America has been doing it right, we’re just not adamant enough about our rightness. On NSA spying whistleblower Edward Snowden, Hillary has called for his prosecution.

As far as standing up to business corruption, Hillary Clinton IS business corruption. From the Arkansas legislature to the White House to New York, Hillary Clinton has left a trail of backroom deals, shady businessmen, and crony capitalism in her wake.

These young, liberal voters may not all know about Hillary Clinton’s frankly establishment Republican stances on foreign policy and spying and collusion between business and government. But a candidate like Rand Paul could help bring these deficiencies to light. Rand Paul has stood up to President Obama about NSA overreach, extrajudicial killings, punishing whistleblowers, staying out of foreign conflicts and crony capitalism. Rand Paul would be able to, if not woo these young liberals, at least show them that they should stay home for Hillary.

Either way, it should be the goal of the Republican noise machine from now until Election Day to show the lefty young uns that Hillary Clinton is NOT one of them.


Why I’m an Anarcha-Feminist: A Moral System Explained

I’m not, in any way, a Noam Chomsky fan. However, I couldn’t help be struck by his description of anarchism in a recent interview.

Primarily it is a tendency that is suspicious and skeptical of domination, authority, and hierarchy. It seeks structures of hierarchy and domination in human life over the whole range, extending from, say, patriarchal families to, say, imperial systems, and it asks whether those systems are justified.

First of all, yes, exactly, brilliant.

But second, “patriarchal families” is something I’d generally skip over. The pithiness of the entire statement, plus me going through and deciding where and when to cut off the part I wanted to quote, had me pass over it again, and notice it.

Anarchy asks whether patriarchal families are justified.

The answer I’ve come to, after years of thought, beginning while I was still embroiled in Evangelical Christianity, on through self-identifying as a non-practicing deist Christian anarcho-capitalist, is, essentially, sometimes.

First we’ve got to decide what we mean by justified. I don’t know Chomsky’s moral system, but from the fact that he’s an anarcho-syndicalist I’d guess that maximizing human prosperity isn’t the aim of his ethics.

It is mine.

And what I have decided, after looking at the evidence, is that patriarchal families are not conducive to maximizing human prosperity. So to me, they are not justified.

Part of why I broke up with the Evangelical church is that I lost faith in its moral system. I overgeneralize and hyperbolize here, I realize, but, for the sake of clarity, I’ll summarize the Evangelical moral philosophy as:

We think Jesus or Paul said this activity is right or wrong, so that makes it right or wrong.

The idea that it is morally wrong for women to teach men, or that premarital sex is wrong, is justified on the exact same grounds that one could use to justify requiring that women must cover their heads in church in order to be right with God. That they don’t cover their heads is clearly a matter of practicality, but pointing that out made my fellow churchgoers hella uncomfortable.

Similarly, I overgeneralize and hyperbolize when I describe the moral system of social conservatism to be,

This activity is different than the activity I’m comfortable with and that has a long track record so it’s wrong.

Though my social conservatism was inextricably linked with Evangelical Christianity, and fell away as I dumped it, I similarly reject its premise. Accepting or rejecting an activity as moral requires more, for me, than approval by a person or persons or a long track record. Cab companies have a long track record. Uber is better.

I get, intellectually, the idea that humans are incomplete and fallible in our intellect, information and understanding. The idea is that because we are not omniscient, we need a supernatural power to tell us how to act. How interesting that faith in the supernatural (but not church membership or attendance) negatively correlates with education and intelligence. It’s almost like the more faith one has in one’s own intellect, information and understanding, the less able one is to buy into this particular moral system.

Because when you look at it, the Evangelical moral system is actually opposed to intellect, information and understanding. God loves us, right? So surely he’d set up a moral system which would maximize our self-interest. Surely being a devout Christian would make us wealthier, happier, more fulfilled and living longer, healthier lives. But, no, it says in the New Testament pretty clearly that following Jesus will lead to alienation, persecution and suffering.

I don’t know, man. I’m just not sure I’m into that. I really mean that. I don’t know. Maybe I should be proclaiming the Gospel and being shunned and sacrificing my worldly happiness for eternal glory. But I do know that the moral code I preached when I was Evangelical, a path to heaven which consisted of renouncing homosexuality and saving yourself for marriage and eschewing drugs, was wrong. And worse, incredibly alienating and hurtful. So since following that moral code brought me to a place I shudder to remember, hurting people and making their lives more difficult, I’ve rejected and replaced it.

As well, I intellectually understand the socially conservative idea that because institutions like marriage and monogamy have “worked” over millennia, they should be protected and enshrined, and that deviation from them threatens the entire working system, and should be punished accordingly. But worked for whom? Yes, marriage and monogamy and insisting women maintain modesty and sexual purity has in the past helped establish and maintain stable, two-parent households in which children could grow up relatively unscathed. However, at what cost to the women involved? And, are we mistaking cause and effect here? Stable marriages, marriage at all, really, has always been most easily and readily available to the wealthiest, the most educated, the most intelligent and the most emotionally strong among us. Is it possible that it’s all those factors which make for the best parenting among the married, and not the marriage itself?

Furthermore, is it possible that what we’re actually seeing is a vicious cycle, in which our ideas about a woman’s proper place help keep her from being able to be economically independent, which then makes her solo parenting marred by grinding poverty, which helps bolster support for the idea that she should be parenting within a marriage?

And even beyond that, is it possible that a man as head of the household, which is what I believe Chomsky was referring to when he said “patriarchal families” only makes sense when women are poorly educated? Now that women are earning more degrees than are men, why relegate decision making to the less-informed of the two?

Another data point which challenges the justification for “patriarchal families” is whether it makes sense for men to head households when their wives outearn them. Since single, childless women in cities outearn their male counterparts, insisting that a family be headed by a man will lead to women eschewing marriage entirely, for lack of a suitable partner.

No, I find both moral systems irredeemably flawed. That’s not to say either get everything wrong. It’s to say that I reject the foundations upon which they are built. No, it’s not enough for me to accept something as moral that Jesus or Paul reportedly said it is. I’ll wear my head fully uncovered should I go to church, thankyouverymuch. And no, that people have always done it and it’s worked okay is not reason enough for me to accept that in the here and now, it’s something worth doing. You can take your admonition for me to submit to my husband and shove it where the sun don’t shine.

My moral system is essentially this: Something is moral if the empirical evidence indicates it makes people happier, more connected or wealthier. Is this arbitrary? Arbitrary as hell. I could have as easily said that something is moral if it increases equality. And I do enjoy equality, but I justify it by the evidence that equality of opportunity, and equality before the law is generally conducive to happiness, connectedness and prosperity.

So, basically, all that is part of why I’m an anarcha-feminist.

This post originally appeared in


How the US is Using Money Laundering Laws to Imprison Political Dissidents

Political prisoners, in common parlance, are people imprisoned as a result of their political activity. Places such as Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and North Korea come to mind when we think about the practice. But more and more, the US is imprisoning people, as well as silencing speech, and telling companies who they can and can’t do business with for political purposes.

Probably the best recent example of US political imprisonment is also the most tragic. When internet activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide, he faced up to 25 years in prison for what appears to be a politically motivated crime. When Swartz downloaded files from online database JSTOR, there’s no indication the multi-millionaire intended to sell the files. In fact, JSTOR had little interest in pressing charges against him. But they ultimately complied with the prosecutor’s wish to make an example out of Swartz for his disregard for copyright legislation. It’s an open question whether the fact that Swartz led a successful crusade against additional, sweeping copyright legislation played any role in the prosecutor seeking unprecedentedly harsh sentence for the man not yet in his 30’s.

Besides imprisoning political dissidents who actually break laws, the Department of Justice has also begun punishing people its bureaucrats just don’t like. Take, for example, guns and pornography — two legal entities which are part of a DOJ list of “bad” businesses. Instead of outlawing these activities clearly and transparently, the DOJ is threatening banks with money laundering investigations in order to coerce them into cutting off services to disfavored customers. It’s called Operation Choke Point and the results have been exactly what you’d expect. Thousands of gun businesses and porn stars have lost their bank accounts, caught in the crosshairs of a political war.

When they’re not cutting off services, the government is suppressing disfavored speech by seizing web sites. Most recently, the FBI seized sex-worker support site My Redbook. The FBI regularly takes over websites, essentially taking property from citizens, before convicting them of any crimes. And like many instances, the charges include money laundering. Why, it isn’t clear, since the site mainly operated as a place for sex workers to share health and safety information and to find clients in a safe environment.

Money laundering itself is the victimless crime of sending or receiving money without telling government bureaucrats much about it. Laws against it were sold initially as add-on charges for prosecutions of mob bosses and crime ring participants. However, they’ve increasingly been used as primary charges for, essentially, earning or spending money in ways government doesn’t like.

Examples of this include alleged Silk Road head honcho Ross Ulrich and bitcoin entrepreneur Charlie Shrem. Both are in custody awaiting trial, Ulrich in jail and Shrem under house arrest, for no other crimes except money laundering. It appears the murder-for-hire charges were invented to conceal the political motivation behind Ulrich’s arrest, as they’ve since been dropped.

Again, both men appear to have been engaging in legal, but unfavored activity, at the time of their arrests. And both men are outspoken libertarians. Ulrich is accused now of narcotics trafficking, computer hacking, money laundering, and engaging in a criminal enterprise for his alleged involvement in Silk Road.

Silk Road is a website which removed the violence from the drug trade. It replaced broken kneecaps for bad user reviews, and in doing so helped reveal the futility of the drug war. But its shutdown revealed something even worse. In order to continue the rights-violating drug war which has created the world’s largest prison population, alienated communities from police, and created urban zones so violent they produce people with worse PTSD than is seen in people who serve in Afghanistan, the DEA shut down the safest way for people to buy and sell drugs.

The charges against Ulrich don’t even pass the common-sense test. He’s accused of running Silk Road, on which crimes might have been committed by other people. Running a website where narcotics are sold, computers are hacked, money is laundered isn’t selling narcotics, hacking computers or laundering money. So far the government has produced zero evidence Ulrich actually engaged in any of these activities.

There is nothing illegal about operating an online marketplace, nor should these marketplaces have to take on responsibility for the legality of each of the millions of transactions which occur on their sites.

Charlie Shrem is in custody for trading bitcoin for US dollars without the proper paperwork. Though he’s accused of laundering one million dollars, he’s unable to move freely. By contrast, megabank HSBC was convicted of laundering millions of dollars for known violent criminal gangs and terrorist organizations. They received a small fine.

Money laundering laws are not and never have been necessary, and are built on the troubling premise that we owe the government information about our money. Until recently, they were always used to help prosecute people for breaking other laws, mostly non-violent and victimless crimes such as illegal gambling and buying and selling drugs. That they’re now being used to punish dissidents for legal but unliked activity is evidence that they are not worth their cost in terms of enforcement or the erosion of our right to dissent.

The FBI, DEA, and DOJ must be reined in before we create more political prisoners and deprive more citizens of their right to free speech.

This post originally appeared at


Self-described “Liberal” Millennials are Actually Libertarian

This week another Reason/Rupe poll came out, this one on the political leanings of my generation, the Millennials. One interesting thing to note for people concerned with how we vote is that a plurality of Millennials surveyed who described themselves as “liberal” express support for downright libertarian positions.

Liberal, to many Millennials (33 percent), just means belief in “social tolerance, openness, and personal freedom.” And far from preferring a leviathan state, many Millennials said they were liberal because people should have freedom to do what they want in their personal lives without government interference.

So how does that impact our voting? More liberal millennials than conservative ones indicated support for a classically “libertarian-leaning candidate,” by a margin of 60 to 27 percent. But nearly half of conservative millennials oppose a “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” candidate.

Here’s the deal. Conservative Millennials won’t vote for a Democrat. They especially won’t vote for any of the Democrats being floated. But what this poll is showing is that liberal Millennials are fed up with a Democratic party which has been anything but liberal. Consider that 60 percent of Hillary Clinton voters and 56 percent of those who approve of President Obama say they would support a fiscally conservative, socially liberal candidate. They’re open to free markets, as long as they get their personal freedoms.

In total, a majority—53 percent—of millennials say they would support a candidate who described him or herself as socially liberal and economically conservative.

So what does that mean?

Young people were key to Obama’s election and re-election. Ignoring their wishes not only harms the GOP now, but also going forward.

Traditionally, the GOP has had an all-too-testy relationship with its libertarian wing. Mediaite’s Andrew Kirell:

To wit: There’s the GOP’s historically poor convention treatment of Paul supporters; the incessant scapegoating of Libertarian candidates for GOP losses, even despite mathematical impossibility; the perpetual misunderstanding of what libertarians believe in; the conservative belittling of libertarian causes; the penchant for selecting terrible candidates and then getting pissy when libertarians hesitate to get behind the false choice; and plenty of embarrassing moves that make libertarians want to crawl under a rock.

The personal freedoms we Millennials want in no way violate small-government principles. In fact, they are full expressions of that idea that that government which governs least, governs best. Ending the War on Drugs, fixing our broken immigration system, no longer allowing the state to discriminate against gays in marriage, reining in domestic spying, and protecting whistleblowers are all, fundamentally, small-government positions which would all result in a net decrease in the state.

Nominating truly small-government politicians, who want the government out of the bedroom and the boardroom, isn’t just the only principled path forward for the GOP. It’s also the best way to attract my generation to the party. It’s the GOP, not the Democrats, who Millennials should associate with “social tolerance, openness, and personal freedom.”

This post originally appeared at


Why Facebook Should Embrace Polyamory

Facebook raised eyebrows earlier this year by unveiling 49 new gender options for users. Hopefully that’s just the start of the ubiquitous social network’s social boundary-pushing ways.

The next frontier? Unconventional relationship options. Instead of multiple options for relationships with just one other user, Facebook should allow users to be in relationships with multiple users. There’s even a petition demanding as much — though it’s only won a couple hundred signatures so far.

“We appreciate and thank Facebook for their recent change in allowing all people to put their own gender identities,” reads the petition. “We ask that they have the same respect for people of all relationship types. They deserve the basic right to be honest about who they care about. Please sign this petition to allow those in open relationships to name their partners truthfully as everybody else does.”

Now let’s face it: Facebook is unlikely to make this change anytime soon. But it should.

American social mores are changing. Support for gay marriage is rocketing upwards. Also increasing is our acceptance of trans-identified individuals.

But society’s approval of multi-partner relationships is still low. Polling done by Gallup last year revealed that while 59 percent of Americans considered homosexual relations morally acceptable, just 14 percent approved of polygamy. (It should be noted that polyamory differs from polygamy in that it allows for multiple male partners as well as female, and so is generally considered more egalitarian.)

A large degree of stigma around any non-monogamous relationship persists. For the vast majority or Americans, there are two options: monogamy, or cheating.

But many people are living out a third option, such as polyamorous writer Lauren Rumpler: ethical non-monogamy. “People assume that to be faithful, you have to be monogamous,” Rumpler explained in a recent interview with me. “To be faithful, you have to be honest. Faithfulness is measured in degree based on the couple. The faithfulness is not to the individual. It’s to the contract that you’ve made to that individual.” The idea is that as long as you’re open and honest with your partners, and they’re comfortable with the terms of the arrangement, you are faithful, no matter how many people you sleep with.

And that’s where the “ethical” portion of ethical non-monogamy comes in, referring to adherence to clearly laid out rules around the extra-relationship relationships. So instead of promising yourself to your partner, you’re promising to obey the rules you’ve decided on with your partner.

Polyamory, a subset of ethical non-monogamy, refers to multiple concurrent sexual relationships, and is generally differentiated from open relationships by long-term, emotionally involved, and/or committed “secondary” relationships. Some poly relationships involve hierarchy, with primary, secondary, (and so on) relationships. And some are non-hierarchical, with no partner being more important than the other. In some poly relationships, “metamours,” as partners of partners call each other, have romantic relationships. In others, partners either don’t know about each other (Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell) or remain friendly but not romantically involved.

The site Polyamory in the News documents the growing coverage this “alternative lifestyle” has received in recent years. There’s even a reality show about poly couples, called, appropriately, Polyamory: Married and Dating.

The main arguments against polyamory center around whether multi-partner relationships are good for children. “Marriage is the institution that provides social stability because it attempts to ensure, insofar as possible, that the mother and father who create a new life commit to caring for that child until adulthood,” writes conservative author Mona Charen. “No other adult arrangement has ever been shown to benefit children as much.”

There aren’t many studies available regarding the impact of non-monogamy on children. Two studies by Elisabeth Sheff indicate some benefits: the children had more individualized time with adults, they “could spend less time in daycare because of the flexibility of having multiple parental figures involved in their lives,” and “the greater diversity of interests available from adult figures helped children foster a wider variety of hobbies and skills.”

However the studies also revealed some drawbacks, particularly “the discomfort of having partnerships between adults dissolve and the resulting emotional trauma for children who may have been very attached to a departing partner.” But the research is also clear that family stability is more important for healthy child development than family makeup.

Conservative columnist Jonathan Rauch makes an interesting case against polyamory when he points out that multiple wives are far more common than multiple husbands, and that this kind of plural marriage is likely to result in a surplus of single men, which is bad for society. However, it’s probably no coincidence that while this particular kind of plural relationship thrived throughout history, women were also terrifically oppressed, and wealth disparities meant that survival was more likely as the third wife of a rich man than the only wife of a dirt-poor one.

In the end, the main benefit of ethical non-monogamy is that it helps people who feel unsuited to monogamy enjoy their relationships. It also accepts that no one person is capable of meeting all of your needs. Acceptance of and education around ethical non-monogamy is important because too many people end up in monogamous relationships not because they enjoy monogamy, but because it’s the default position, and they never consider other options.

This is where Facebook comes in. Of course, Facebook doesn’t exactly grant rights or set policy. But can you imagine how many more people would consider and accept polyamory as a viable and ethical life choice if Facebook gave polyamory its imprimatur?

This post originally appeared on The Week.


Libertarians Who Fret About Libertarians Who Fret About Privilege

About a year later, has realized there’s a conversation in liberty-land happening about “privilege.” And writer Bretigne Shaffer is none-too-pleased.

Now, C4SS just held an excellent Mutual Exchange debate to which I contributed one essay, and many other far-more-brilliant minds submitted several pieces. But for whatever reason Shaffer only cites me and my FEE debate mate Julie Borowski on the topic.

When looking at my work on the subject, the first mistake Shaffer makes is to claim I failed to address criticisms to my “shaming is coercion” article that I actually did address. In the follow-up article. Which is linked to from the original.


What gets left out of this discussion are the implications of declaring something to be “coercive.” From a libertarian viewpoint, coercion implies force or the threat of force. And force is justified as a response to force. So when Reisenwitz asserts that “shaming” is a form of coercion, and doesn’t distinguish it from other forms of coercion (say, for example, actual coercion), then it should follow that some form of force is justified as a response to the “coercion” of shaming. It’s funny how these things get left out.

Also funny: When writers don’t do their due diligence. In fact I clarified that although I do acknowledge that shaming can be a form of coercion (something I’m not the only writer to assert) that fact doesn’t justify using even more coercion to punish it.

Shaffer claims I’m “confused” on the force distinction, and then offers no actual rebuttal to my definition of coercion than that coercion is “force.” Tautological much? No, in fact I’m not confused. I just disagree with you. Or might, if I understood what you were saying.

Moving on, Shaffer calls my claim that looking at the bigoted roots of bigoted laws and policies “complete nonsense.” “It is not a ‘lack of empathy’ that is at the root of these bad laws – it is the institution of the state itself,” she writes.

This is a statement so asinine it’s difficult for me to formulate a response. First, yes, sure, if there were no state there would be no laws. Unfortunately for all of us, there is one, so fighting specific laws is necessary.

Now, where, I’d ask Shaffer, does the will and drive to create and tolerate sodomy laws, redlining, vagrancy laws, laws against women owning property, and so on originate? The “state itself” isn’t a good enough, or actually helpful in any way, answer. States make laws to placate people and businesses. So if those people are businesses are bigoted enough to create and/or tolerate bigoted laws, then that’s what you get. That, among other reasons, is why bigotry matters.

Shaffer is claiming she’s taking “a principled stance against coercion,” by ignoring bigotry, and it’s result: privilege. In reality, she’s decided, arbitrarily, that the only thing that matters is that physical violence is threatened against an individual. Questions like why that violence is threatened, who it’s used on, why physical violence is coercion but character assassination or blackmail isn’t, are all unanswered.

It’s fine to be, for whatever reason, personally disinterested in identity-based oppression. But to pretend that disinterest somehow constitutes principle, or that there is nothing to be gained, regarding freedom, by examining the origins of laws which oppress unevenly based on gender, race, orientation or whatever arbitrary basis you want to pick is intellectually (and, I’d argue, morally) bankrupt.

This post originally appeared at