Acton Institute Powerblog

Eyes Without Feeling, Feeling Without Sight

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ABC columnist and Temple professor John Allen Paulos has an interesting piece this week on a new paper outlining an economic theory of prostitution. Basically, the authors outline the incentives and patterns involved in the “world’s oldest profession” (a moniker I think is misleading, for the title truly belongs to gardening). I will let you read both the paper and the article yourself, because it is only Mr. Paulos’s conclusion I would like to discuss here:

Like any statistical model, this one ignores the diversity of real people and the complexities of love and pleasure, changing social mores, et cetera. Still, once all its equations have been solved, a simple fact remains: Most women enter prostitution for the money.

This being so, legalizing it, regulating it (strictly enforcing laws against pimping, child prostitution, public nuisance and so forth) and improving the economic prospects for women seem to me a greatly preferable approach to it than moralistic denunciation.

But like any purely economic assessment, Mr. Paulos’s statements above ignore the essence of man, ignores the question “what is a human person truly?” Without an understanding of the inherent dignity of the human person–in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!–it is easy to reduce all human interaction to economics, to simple exchange.

All such reduction goes out the window if you posit the following: “the human person is designed to be a gift.” If the core of human essense is to love, that is, to make a gift of one’s self, all reduction of a human person to her market commodity is not only ultimately counterproductive to a healthy market, but destructive of the human person herself.

If the human person, at her core, is designed for love, for self-giving, to reduce her to a economic commodity is to deny her true nature. Why should this matter? To try to tease use out of something not designed for that use not only destroys the use, but the used as well.

Some closing thoughts from Karol Wojtyla’s Love and Responsibility:

“The principle of ‘utility’ itself, of treating a person as a means to an end, and an end moreover which in this case is pleasure, the maximization of pleasure, will always stand in the way of love…”

“The person is a good towards which the only proper and adequate attitude is love…”

“…love for a person must consist in affirmation that the person has a value higher than that of an object for consumption or use.”

This is precisely what Mr. Paulos neglects to understand. His concern about ‘moralistic denunciation’ betrays an inexcusable ignorance about the end of economics, which is man, and the end of man, which is Love.

Before Mr. Paulos advocates regulation as opposed to moralism, perhaps he ought to spend some time asking himself morality’s question: “What is man?”

David Michael Phelps