Last week, after carrying the text of an open letter from Robert George and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf calling upon the hotel industry to quit offering porn, Public Discourse ran a response from Robert Miller. Miller is in sympathy with the project, but offers three reasons why he thinks this is probably a fight not worth picking. Hotels won’t want to do it because porn brings in too much money. Even if they did want to do it, they’d be sued by shareholder activists for failing to maximize profit. The hotels would deserve to win such suits, but it’s not clear they would. And even if they fought off the lawsuits, shareholders seeking profits would organize to replace the hotel boards that got rid of porn with new boards that would bring it back.

There’s one really big problem with Miller’s arguments: His information on the profitability of hotel porn is out of date. Two of America’s largest hotel chains - Marriott and Omni  - have already made the decision to drop porn. Marriott did so just this year. Due to technological changes, revenues from hotel porn have been collapsing:

The [Marriott] hotel chain says the decision is strictly based on economics: In-room porn profits have steadily declined because the porn industry has moved online. Hotels in general have seen business travelers bring in their own electronic entertainment in the form of DVDs or movies they can watch on their laptops (like videos from Netflix). According to Colliers PKF Hospitality Research, hotels now collect about 39 percent less for in-room pay-per-view movie rentals than they did a decade ago.

The technological trends are only going to continue moving in this direction. This is a fight we can win.

By fighting it, we can greatly hasten the process. Technological change is only going to eat away at hotel porm relatively slowly. Let’s raise the costs of being on the wrong side.

This is a fight very much worth winning. The anti-porn cause desperately needs a win. We’ve been fighting too many losing battles. This is a very smart play. It’s the equivalent of going after partial-birth abortion.

It’s also worth winning this fight in order to establish that the market is moral. Miller is dead wrong when he writes that ”the legal institutions of a democratic and capitalist society are not designed to give people what is good and prevent them from getting what is bad; they are designed to give people what they want and not give them what they don’t want.” If I believed that, I wouldn’t believe in either democracy or capitalism. Democracy is right because it does a better job than the alternatives of cultivating authentic human good in the polity. Capitalism is right because it does a better job than the alternative (note the singular) of cultivating authentic human good in the economy. That they do so is not an accidental by-product; this is their only justification for existing. No one should believe in them for any other reason.

Miller writes that no court has yet tested the question of whether companies can refrain from maximizing profit for ethical considerations. That’s a legal fight we not only should win, but probably would win. Even Milton Friedman, the key intellectual defender of the proposition that (in his words) the only social responsibility of a company is to maximize profit, added that they had a responsibility to do so within the law and also within the prevailing ethical norms of society . Now, I think the social responsibility of a company is not to maximize profit but to serve customers. But if even Milton Friedman is with us on this, we can win it.

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