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September 28, 2004
The New Old Hometown

Julian Sanchez laments the loss of freedom in his hometown of New York City and the transformation of Manhattan into, in Sanchez' words, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Disney corporation. Sanchez writes a strong defense of the libertarian philosophy and why he thinks New York needs a little more of it applied to its current government:

With the approval of [Mayor Michael] Bloomberg who is quoted in the Times story as telling participants in a community meeting, "I wouldn't want a porn shop in my neighborhood and you shouldn't have one in yours" building inspectors have singled out adult businesses for special attention, issuing a barrage of citations for such picayune violations as improper lighting on exit signs, cigarette butts on shop floors, or insufficient soap in bathrooms. The city's inexhaustible cache of micromanagerial regulations all but insures that each business can be found guilty of something, and it's hard not to recall the scene in which one of Ayn Rand's pulp villains declares:
Did you really think we want those laws observed? [...] There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.

The effort is not entirely dissimilar from efforts by neighborhood associations in my current stomping grounds, Washington D.C., to use a byzantine liquor licensing system as leverage to bully bar and nightclub owners into accepting "voluntary" agreements that limit the businesses in a host of ways not connected in any direct and obvious way with the serving of liquor.

Sanchez' argument makes sense, although I think that Rudy Giuliani's original effort to enforce the smaller laws as a barrier to larger violations not only made sense, but actually worked to improve New York's safety. The question is how many of the smaller laws does a city pass? Enforcement only comes after legislation is enacted; complaining about the police enforcing laws is somewhat akin to complaining about getting charged at the supermarket counter. The place for New Yorkers to slow down Bloomberg's enforcement efforts is at the legislature and city council -- to remove the sillier regulations with which businesses must comply.

Nor does Sanchez completely convince me that the sex industry is victimized by zoning laws. Sanchez attempts to paint ordinances that restrict sex shops from being within 500 feet of a church as a violation of the separation between church and state. That would only be true if it applied to one particular church. As long as it applies to all places of worship equally, it's not only constitutional, it expresses the will of the people in most communities.

Sanchez asks:

But those secondary effects are often hard to disentangle from negative attitudes toward the content of the material peddled there. Consider, for instance, the "secondary effect" of diminished property values. That certainly seems likeindeed, isa perfectly concrete harm. Yet what does it mean, ultimately, for property values to be reduced? Only that some significant portion of real estate buyers prefer not to live near adult businesses, a preference which may largely amount to no more than a subjective disapproval of dildoes and porn DVDs.

Er, no. Sanchez loses me here. Sex businesses do not exist antiseptically from the neighborhood, and I have lived and worked around enough of them to know. Where strip clubs and porn theaters operate, you will find alcohol bottles, syringes, and used condoms strewn about. Even the upper-class "gentlemen's clubs" wind up with the girls doing tricks in the parking lots, or the B-list of street dancers taking up the slack.

It's revolting even in a business district. It's absolutely intolerable around schools and (yes) churches, where children go for religious or educational instruction. Perhaps Toys in Babeland maintains an upper-class clientele, but so did the strip club that moved in next to our offices in Phoenix; their parking lot was filled with expensive cars, parked by valets and driven by men in nice suits. And yet the next morning their parking lot and ours would be filled with the detritus of alcohol, narcotic, and sexual activity.

As someone with libertarian sympathies, Sanchez' arguments about the limitation of government and the reduction of police enforcement resonate with me -- to a point. However, his defense of the sex industry as a harmless adult Disneyland thwarted by the closed-mindedness of puritanical New Yorkers doesn't fly.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 28, 2004 5:43 AM

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