Saturday, July 4, 2015

Crime, Punishment, and Unemployment

The penal and the anti-labor policy attitudes are closely connected. A July 4 meditation.

I follow MMT economics, which has a great deal to say about our attitude towards employment and unemployment. This attitude has hardened dramatically over recent decades, from a supportive responsibility of government in the wake of the Great Depression and the unifying experience of World War II, down to the Romney credo of "I like to fire people", though he might think twice when "corporations are people too, my friend".

An analogous shift has taken place in our attitude towards criminals and crime, from making an effort to punish in proportional ways and rehabilitate, down to the current lock 'em up and let 'em rot attitude, sweeping up whole demographic communities in its wake.

We have migrated from a consciousness of social complexity and social duties of the collective, towards a starky individualistic sink-or-swim ethic that made of the losers or victims of various social pathologies scapegoats to be ostracized and made even more miserable. We have gone from a temporary suspension of the class war back into its most fetid trenches, as the rich, running their own political party and Ministry of Truth, emit an endless stream of NewsSpeak pertaining to an ideology of blaming the poor for being poor, and idolizing the rich for being hard working exemplars of the American way, richly deserving of every penny they have and in no way beneficiaries of societal inequalities and happenstance.

Now, promotion of striving and hard work is great. But the extent to which we have lost sight of common responsibilities and the role of luck in everyone's lives, and made unpersons of the unemployed (and the incarcerated) has been astonishing. The political system was barely able to muster the empathy to pass the first stimulus bill, and only after it was larded up with plenty of non-stimulative tax cuts for the rich and generous aid to banks. Now the system is completely inert, dedicated to the proposition that helping the unemployed is the absolute last item on the list, behind fixing our national debt in 2040 and cutting lower middle class supports like Medicare, Social Security, and public education.

It is all so ironic, since, conceptually speaking, the society needs as much labor as possible. There are elderly to take care of, parks to clean, solar panels to install.. the list is endless. Just because the private sector can't manage to employ everyone does not by any means imply that everyone can't be employed usefully or can't be paid decently.

It is doubly ironic since work is by now a very artificial concept. We are far past the state of needing everyone's hands on the plow to grow our food and outfit our caves. The modern economy has endless roles for everyone to make each other's lives better, and one highly significant way to do that is simply to employ those who would like to be employed. Indeed, if we make labor easy to sell, that stabilizes society by reducing the need for crime. Crime would become a luxury instead of a necessity.

But the rich have, though their political party, made abundantly clear where they stand in all this. They rather keep labor down and ill-paid rather than build the country's infrastrucure.  They rather enforce their ideology of private capitalism over the public good, with a job market exclusively at the beck and call of private employers. They rather keep inflation low than foster economic growth. They rather keep and expand their marginal advantages in a declining system rather than tend to our common institutions and future collective prospects. It is appalling.

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