Sex without Romance: The Political Economy of Prostitution

LAW WITHOUT ROMANCE, Edward Lopez, ed., 2008

36 Pages Posted: 14 Jan 2008


Virtually every jurisdiction in the United States outlaws prostitution or the sex-for-money exchange. Assuming that women decide to become prostitutes because that is their best-available employment option, why is that decision punished and what are the implications of outlawing prostitution? Given the general complaints about prostitution activity, is there a better legal regime to minimize the negative impact on prostitutes but still address any negative externalities created by the activity? This paper begins with an analysis of anti-prostitution regimes, ranging from absolute prohibition with strict enforcement, to technical prohibition but little enforcement, to regulated prostitution under Nevada's legal brothel system. An in-depth look at the legal brothel regime reveals that while the system is preferable, it is stunted by unequal bargaining power between the prostitutes and brothel owners owing to collusive arrangements with local sheriffs. But since a regulated brothel system, with all its faults, provides a safer environment for prostitutes and their customers than prohibition while maintaining a sufficient barrier between the prostitution activity and the community to ameliorate citizen complaints, I ask why this system is not in use in other jurisdictions, specifically Las Vegas, Nevada. Using public-choice analysis, the paper concludes that lower employment costs for casino and hotel owners due to kick backs received by hotel employees from prostitutes and their customers, the interests of rural governments to maximize revenues from tourism generated by brothels, and the interest of Las Vegas legislators to portray the town as family-friendly maintains the status quo of illegality.

Keywords: prostitution, public choice, political economy, interest groups, sex

JEL Classification: A12, D23, D26, D62, D72, D78

Suggested Citation

Warnick, Ashlie C., Sex without Romance: The Political Economy of Prostitution. LAW WITHOUT ROMANCE, Edward Lopez, ed., 2008, Available at SSRN:

Ashlie C. Warnick (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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