RIP Phil Harvey, Entrepreneur and Philanthropist Who Expanded Human Pleasure and Human Choice

Phil Harvey—erotica and contraceptive entrepreneur, philanthropist, novelist, and supporter of Reason Foundation (the nonprofit that publishes this magazine)—died last week at age 83. Harvey’s work combined a desire to give and a passion for helping people make better choices.

Harvey spent decades working in organizations he co-founded or founded that promoted reproductive freedom, such as Population Services International and DKT International. In 1972, he founded Adam & Eve, a groundbreaking mail order business specializing in erotic literature, film, and objects.

He has battled government attempts at censorship and suppression of expression as a constant theme in his life and business. This topic was the focus of his 2001 book. The Government vs. Erotica: The Siege of Adam & Eve. Here’s Nick Gillespie’s review. There are reasons:

In 1986, Adam & Eve was invaded by law enforcement officials on the hunt for “obscene” materials. Harvey began a eight-year struggle against the federal government in order to be allowed to sell condoms and dirty movies to any adult. After winning an obscenity trial in conservative Alamance County (during which prosecutors made a show of entering into evidence a “foot-long double dong” sold by Adam & Eve), Harvey found himself up against the U.S. Department of Justice under Attorney General Edwin Meese.

Meese DOJ started a national strategy called “Project Postporn” in which multiple districts filed concurrent prosecutions of porn sellers. The goal—often successful—was to scare vendors into quickly accepting draconian settlements that allowed them to avoid or reduce jail time by shuttering their doors. Harvey tried a different approach: Harvey fought federal obscenity allegations (and eventually spent $3 million in legal fees), and filed a civil lawsuit against the feds. All matters were settled largely according to his terms.

Harvey was fighting not only for his own rights, but for others as well. With a challenge against New York’s anti-prescription contraceptive law, he reached the Supreme Court in 1977. Carey v. Population Services International, And won a victory in favor of the free distribution and promotion contraceptives to all, even those not married. In the long and tortuous battle over federal funding, the government insisting that abortions cannot be promoted or performed by nongovernmental organisations was a legal fight he also had to face.

In one of his bailiwicks he fought another legal fight against compelled expression. This was a government policy that required any person receiving government funds to combat AIDS to publicly declare their opposition to prostitution. Harvey’s DKT International, a nonprofit philanthropic organization, believed in sustainable business models and not only charity. It was dedicated to providing low-cost birth control products and information to poorer countries. Harvey felt that Harvey should not be required to believe something the company did not believe. The income came from both private and federal sources. The case was won at the outset, and he lost it on appeal. But, in 2013, a Supreme Court lawsuit from another source overturned Harvey’s demand to say something he didn’t believe.

As The EconomistHarvey was described in a 2004 profile as a “sexual delights provider for the rich”, a fervent defender of women’s rights, and a “family-planning expert and AIDS prevention specialist of the African poor”. Although he insisted that his goal wasn’t to reduce the birthrate per se, he admitted that there was evidence that people with any income had more options for contraceptive choices. His ultimate goal was to allow people to make any choice about their reproductive health.

Harvey was a supporter and advocate of freedom speech, expression and in general Harvey produced movies dedicated towards free speech. Is it Possible to Make a Joke of It?2015. Mighty Ira(2020), The last is about Ira Glasser of the American Civil Liberties Union. He expressed regret at seeing America’s primary sources of cultural power, indoctrination and influence adopt speech codes such as Harvard University or other prominent universities.

His political issues included free expression, as well as matters that directly affected his contraceptive and erotic enterprises. He co-authored a book in 2020 that he wrote. The Rich Get WelfareHarvey was particularly concerned with the way government money and government power end up filling the pockets and wealth of the wealthy, powerful and connected. He discredits the naive belief in big government being necessary to protect the small guy from the machinations of market and corporate power.

As Harvey told Gillespie in a 2016 interview discussing another book he co-authored, Welfare and its Human CostHe was also worried about an alarming pattern in welfare system incentives for the less well-off, where people saw their efforts to improve themselves as risky, as it could result in them losing benefits. Harvey felt that this dynamic stifles people’s natural desire to achieve their goals and build self-worth and dignity.

Harvey’s philanthropy and work were dedicated freedom. They also believed in the power to manage freedoms properly. It was a charmingly American mixture that brought pleasure, control, choice, to millions of people both here and abroad.

Harvey and Gillespie in 2012: Video