Friday, September 28, 2007

Amsterdam to dim the red lights

Amsterdam's Mayor Job Cohen has given the city the green light to start turning off the red lights:

If the city authorities have their way, the widely sold tourist T-shirt proclaiming that "Good boys go to heaven and bad boys go to Amsterdam" will become a relic. Indeed, those bad boys may soon struggle to find their way to the city's fabled red-light district of "storefront" prostitution. Last week one of the main entrepreneurs in the city's perfectly legal sex industry cashed in, selling his properties in the district. The buyer, for $35 million, was a not-for-profit organization backed by the city of Amsterdam. The plan is to convert the buildings in which prostitutes pose in the windows into apartments and more conventional commercial space.

From a strictly entrepreneurial point of view, this is not a good investment. The buyers reckon that the value of the properties may fall by $21 million, a deficit that the municipality would have to fund. But for the city elders, that may be the price of transforming the old city center, which they say has become clogged with undesired and outright criminal activities. While prostitution is legal in the Netherlands, the city has found the trade is a magnet for female trafficking and money laundering. "Our aim is to push back criminal activity, to gain more control over the area", Mayor Job Cohen commented.

Nor is the sex industry Mayor Cohen's only target: He also sees the buyout as a chance to begin clearing out the cannabis-selling coffee shops and what he calls "bad horeca" (the hospitality industry term meaning hotel-restaurant-cafe).
With the district nestled next to sacred structures like the Oude Kerk, built at the beginning of the 14th Century, you might say old Job has decided that for God he will suffer economic deprivation and the ire of aimless, pimply-faced young American travellers blazing toward the district like dogs in heat. And this time he's not going to moan about it, he's going to embrace it!

Libertarians claim that prostitution, illicit drug use, and in the extreme even public sexual acts and the removal of age boundaries restricting them, should be legally allowed. They are difficult to prevent, and in any case are victimless crimes.

The harrowing sex-slave trade in Southeast Asia and the cartel-controlled cities of Mexico aside, it is bad news for locals if such activities find a home in the community. It attracts the dregs of humanity, in turn increasing crime rates, lowering property values, and freightening off other forms of investment.

The problems the red light district is creating are cropping up in the heart of the Netherlands, one of the highest IQ, most affluent, and safest countries in the world, all attributes that better enable it to handle a libertine society. And still, in a city that has attained its contemporary international fame for the red lights, they are more trouble than they're worth.

In less endowed places, including the nearly third-world condition of most of the US' inner-cities, it is more troublesome still. Stabbings, shootings, and murders often occur in and around these centers. Property values are depressingly low and the idea of any other sort of sustainable economic development would be risible if it weren't so tragic. Celebrity status does not even guarantee protection.

The 'make it legal but not in my backyard' argument doesn't hold much ecumenical water. Unlike wanting to live in an area with higher property taxes to keep undesirables on the other side of the tracks, a prohibitive attitude towards the commercialization of red light activities is a net good, in that investment that would go into them instead can be used more constructively elsewhere, whereas increased governmental revenue from higher property taxes is hardly benign.

Parenthetically, this highlights a dispute I have with libertarian thought. It places too much emphasis on positive rights and not enough emphasis on negative rights. Thus, the kid in the souped-up Subaru can pump his base across the street, and if the vibrations irritate me, well, I can always move!

Further, it grants nothing to the claim of enhanced rights for those who've been in a place longer. An unskilled migrant whose clothes are still drying off from the waters of the Rio Grande has as much a right to a janitorial position as the dull native who just graduated from high school and is looking for work. In a world where people will still die for the land they live on, it strikes me as a recipe for perpetual conflict.


3 comments:

Papa Giorgio said...

The libertarian doesn't usually ask what is good for society... like in the case of Gay-Marriage.

Audacious Epigone said...

Papa,

Promoting individualism at the expense of collectivism can be self-defeating, as collectivism is but a measure of the aggregate of individuals. It seems that libertarianism tends to give this little thought.

Andy said...

"Libertarians claim that prostitution, illicit drug use, and in the extreme even public sexual acts and the removal of age boundaries restricting them, should be legally allowed. They are difficult to prevent, and in any case are victimless crimes.

The harrowing sex-slave trade in Southeast Asia and the cartel-controlled cities of Mexico aside, it is bad news for locals if such activities find a home in the community. It attracts the dregs of humanity, in turn increasing crime rates, lowering property values, and freightening off other forms of investment."

You hit the nail on the head. Legalized or not, activities like drug use and prostitution are those of people of low character, and poor morals. Not the kind of people with whom extended contact is a blessing.