Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Welcome to the Walmart Family - Or Else?!

Germany has an unemployment problem. With 10.5% unemployment, it’s one of the highest rates in Western Europe. Still struggling to absorb eastern Germany and saddled with a barely growing economy, Germany has become willing to consider restrictions and cuts to its comparatively generous social welfare system. The unemployed must register with the Labor Office and be available to its placement service, agreeing to accept a job found for them if it is consistent with their training and experience.

Two years ago, Germany decriminalized prostitution. Now needing pay taxes and employee health insurance, brothel owners were granted access to official databases of jobseekers.

A 25 year old former IT professional, who was willing to work outside her field and had worked in a café, was called for a job interview only to discover that the prospective employer is a brothel. She refused the work and now faces a possible loss of benefits because any woman under 55 who has been out of work for more than a year can be forced to take an available job – including in the sex industry – or lose her unemployment benefit.

I support legalizing prostitution as means of bringing sex industry workers out of the margins and affording them protection of their rights. Currently subject to violence and rape with little legal recourse, criminalizing prostitution creates a substantial barrier to exiting the sex industry. But prostitution is not just another job. Yet that is not how German law currently sees the matter.

"There is now nothing in the law to stop women from being sent into the sex industry," said Merchthild Garweg, a lawyer from Hamburg who specialises in such cases. "The new regulations say that working in the sex industry is not immoral any more, and so jobs cannot be turned down without a risk to benefits."

At first blush this seems like liberal political correctness run amuck. And there is some truth to that. But that isn’t the whole story. The ability of employers to force the unemployed to work for them, presumably at whatever wages they set, would be corporate America’s wet dream. We are, of course, dangerously close to that line. We in America reserve the worst treatment for the poorest and most vulnerable, those not in the unemployment system but in the welfare system. An eighteen year old in the US not on welfare must work full-time, if work is available, if they are living with a parent receiving welfare payments. School does not count towards the work requirement. We may not be at the point where McDonalds can troll the unemployment offices for conscripts, but effect of our current system is virtually the same.

And before any of you conservatives start looking at Germany’s system with envy, consider what would happen if you were unemployed and there was a job opening at a local clinic providing abortion services. And liberals, imagine being forced to work at a meat processing plant, or for the tobacco industry or for – perish the very thought – Walmart! The point is that there are plenty of jobs other than prostitution that someone might object to on moral grounds.

But there is a second element to this story that isn’t exactly from the liberal playbook. Reconsider the above quoted statement. "There is now nothing in the law to stop women from being sent into the sex industry." (Emphasis added.) Why only women? I’ve been to Germany. It has a large and vibrant gay community. (And let’s face it, men are the primary consumers of the services of sex industry workers – male and female.) Imagine, even in liberal Europe, if an unemployed straight man was required to have sex with men or lose his benefits. The problem would be fixed - pronto.

Of course, no one has yet actually lost their benefits in Germany for refusing to become a prostitute. This may well be resolved. And we’ll probably never hear about it if the logical and reasonable conclusion is reached.

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At 12:28 AM, Anonymous hoody said...

But then, (and this is just a thought), what of the moral responsibilities being AVOIDED in PROVIDING a welfare state, such as Germany's?

Don't get me wrong, the business of seemingly forcing healthy women into prostitution is insane. (but logical, with its decriminalization). But some of this bed got made when the state adopted the compulsory care of the needy. Might we not revisit the voluntary work provided by mediating institutions before the onset of the welfare state?

Example: Earthquake in Central America. aid sent to affected countries' government was getting sucked up by graft and overhead. Finally, an irritated head of state (Nicaragua? Honduras?) said, "enough of this idiocy. All monies are going to Catholic Relief Services, whose giving is entirely monetary and they have the methods of insuring that the goods get to the people, not the government."

Note: This is not a plug for Catholicism, as much as it is a plug for non-state services providing succor to the poor.

At 12:29 AM, Anonymous hoody said...

That should read "VOLUNTARY and they have the methods. . ." not "monetary"

At 11:42 AM, Blogger JimG said...


You raise some important questions. What is the moral responsibility of individual citizens and a society towards the poor and the unemployed? What should we do voluntarily and what should we be required to do?

I would argue that safety net programs are there for all of us. It’s an agreement we make collectively among ourselves. We agree to help those in need with the understanding that, should we ever require it, we will be helped. Government is, or should be, of, by and for the people. If we are the government, than all government assistance programs are voluntary. This opens a host of questions about when we are best to act collectively through our government (if ever) and when we are best to act individually. Can we “count” on private charities to get the job done? Is it allowable if they don’t? What about dissenters – those individuals who do not agree with the assistance programs? (Though the same question could also be asked of the other collective agreement we make through government, the vastly more expensive defense expenditures.)

I don’t expect this little blurb to be compelling in itself. I hope to address your important questions more fully at some later date.

At 2:09 AM, Blogger Ray said...

Socialism is great until the rubbers hit the road. so to speak.

At 1:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

prostitutes are cool!


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