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Issues Economic and Social Justice Stop TPP Fast Track End Mass Criminalization How Wall Street Turned America Into Incarceration Nation
Tuesday, 26 November 2013 21:17

How Wall Street Turned America Into Incarceration Nation

Written by  Les Leopold | AlterNet

Transforming poorer neighborhoods into desirable real estate for the new elites often requires getting rid of the poor: jail becomes the new home for many.

The U.S. leads the world in prisoners with 2.27 million in jail and more than 4.8 million on parole. Minorities have been especially hard hit, forming 39.4% of the prison population, with one in three black men expected to serve time during their lifetimes.

How is it that our land, supposedly the beacon of freedom and democracy for the rest of the world, puts so many of its own people into prison?

We usually attribute the prisoner increase to a combination of overt racism and Nixon's war on drugs, followed by Rockefeller's "three strikes" legislation in New York, and then the 1984 Sentencing Reform Act with its mandatory sentences. While racism and these laws certainly provide ample opportunity to incarcerate millions for violating senseless prohibition laws, they do not tell the whole story.

Racism was just as virulent, if not more so, long before the dramatic rise in prisoners set in during the 1980s and 1990s. Just because there are draconian laws on the books, it doesn't explain why they are so dutifully enforced. It also doesn't explain why so many are willing to risk prison, knowing the increasing odds of getting caught.  

If we dig deeper, we'll see that the rise in incarceration corresponds with the rise of financialization and the dramatic increase in Wall Street incomes. Of course, just because trend lines on charts rise and fall together doesn't mean one causes the other. But this correspondence is much more than coincidence.

In fact, we could show you a dozen other trends lines about financialization, wealth and the rising incomes of America's elites that follow the same patterns over similar years as the incarceration rate. What is the connection?

'Unleashing' Wall Street destroys manufacturing, older urban areas and black America's upward mobility
By the end of the 1970s, our policy establishment embarked upon a new experiment to shock the nation out of stagflation (the crushing combination of high unemployment and high inflation). To do so, neo-liberal economists successfully argued that Wall Street should be deregulated and that taxes on the wealthy should be cut to spur new entrepreneurial activity that would enrich us all.

Entrepreneurial activity certainly increased, and with a vengeance. Rather than create new jobs and industries that would promote shared prosperity, a new and invigorated Wall Street set about to devastate American manufacturing. Its goal was, and still is, to make money from money, not to make money by producing tangible goods and services. Wall Street's main product for America is debt. And its profits derive from loading up the country with it, and then collecting compound interest.

Wave after wave of financial corporate raiders (now politely called private equity firms) swooped in to suck the cash flow out of healthy manufacturing facilities. Wall Street, freed from its New Deal shackles, loaded companies up with debt, cut R&D, raided pension funds, slashed wages and benefits, and decimated well-paying jobs in the U.S. while shipping many abroad. The released cash flow was used to pay back the financiers, buy up stock to drive up its price, and pay out dividends. Nearly half the raided companies failed as America's heartland in a few short years turned into the Rust Belt.

But Wall Street prospered as its profits rose to account for nearly 40% of all corporate profits by 2003, up from less than 10 percent in 1982  (It would take more space than we have here to explain why this had little to do with "unfair" foreign competition. We could also show that so called free-trade agreements were designed by financiers to promote their interests, not ours.)

The catastrophic collapse in manufacturing jobs was particularly tragic for black Americans who during the first two decades after WWII had seen their standard of living rise as they entered higher paying industries. As the Wall Street vultures sucked the life out of these industries, black Americans found themselves in dying urban areas where the next best jobs paid less than half what manufacturing once paid. If lucky, young minority men and women could find work in the public sector which still was unionized. More typically, scarce jobs might be found in fast-food chains, box stores, warehouses, and in the lower ranks of the healthcare system. Overall, however, unemployment rates soared, especially for minority youth. Participation in the underground economy often became the only means of survival.

Financialization, gentrification and the removal of low-income residents
Not only does financialization destroy middle-income manufacturing jobs in urban areas, but the process also removes low-income neighborhoods through gentrification. The rise of high-income financiers (and the desire of banks to loan more money to them) creates upward pressure on housing prices in urban areas that cater to elites, like New York, Chicago and San Francisco. As land values rise rapidly, lower-income residents are squeezed out of their neighborhoods, which are revamped into fashionable townhouses and apartments for the wealthy. (Typically, the children of the well-to-do unconsciously serve as forward troops as they flock into lower-income areas in major cities, seeking to support themselves as artists and young professionals.)

As hundreds of neighborhoods are transformed, higher income residents require more protection from the alternative low-income economy, called "crime in the streets." As mayors cater to these new elites, police patrols increase and incarceration rises through "stop and frisk" programs which invariably target minorities.  

Simply put, for financial interests to transform poorer neighborhoods into desirable real estate for the new elites, it is necessary to get rid of the poor. Jail becomes the new home for many.

The housing bubble and bust further destroyed lower income neighborhoods and decent-paying public sector jobs. Not only did financial interests feast upon productive firms, but they thrived on consumer debt (yet another chart that mirrors the incarceration rate).

The housing bubble, which was entirely engineered by Wall Street, created enormous demand for junk mortgages to package into securities which then turned toxic. When the bubble burst, the biggest losers were lower-income homeowners who thought they had finally gotten a piece of the American dream. With declining housing prices they found themselves underwater and/or living in neighborhoods with hundreds of abandoned homes. Their debts, remained, while, as we all know, the richest of the rich were bailed out.  

Because of the Wall Street crash, revenue-starved urban areas in the Rust Belt were hit once again. With unemployment higher than anytime since the Great Depression, business and worker tax revenues fell, leading to cuts in public employee jobs and benefits—the very jobs middle-income minorities were fortunate to find as manufacturing declined over the previous decades.  

Detroit became the poster child for the ravages brought about by financialization. First corporate raiders and private equity firms squeezed the life out of manufacturing all over Michigan. Then the Wall Street crash destroyed more jobs and undermined the tax base, leading to urban bankruptcy and more job loss in the public sector.   

Wall Street's Jobs Program: Incarceration
What will happen to all those unemployed, given the massive shortfall in jobs? What will happen to those trapped in neighborhoods crammed with foreclosed homes? Where is the jobs program for the millions who need it?

High finance has the answer that is now the de-facto government policy—put the dislocated, the unemployed, the "surplus" youth in jail.

That's because financial interests and their crony politicians have no interest at all in traditional jobs programs that could put millions of young people to work. Instead, they are doing all they can to bring austerity policies to America. The less government spends on public services and safety net programs, the more money it has to support Wall Street. As government services are cut, state and local governments must turn even more to Wall Street in order to finance infrastructure projects (where the total cost including interest payments is usually several times the initial costs of construction).

Wall Street's super-profits can only continue if public and consumer funds are transferred to high finance via interest payments on loans. So public jobs programs are out of the question, and both parties have been "convinced" (with campaign contributions) that we can't afford them.

So that leaves us with one and only one jobs program—incarceration—which is also a growth opportunity for Wall Street. As public revenues falter, pressure will mount to privatize more and more correctional facilities and law enforcement functions, opening up lucrative opportunities for more privatization and more Wall Street loans to make it happen.

So by all means, let's legalize drugs, get rid of mandatory sentencing and prohibit "stop and frisk." But until we tackle financialization and its destruction of neighborhoods and jobs, we will channel another generation into the underground economy—and into jail.

These four graphs tell the tale visually -- click to enlarge each:

1. The soaring American prison population since 1920:

Click to enlarge.

2. Where the money is going: financial sector vs. non-financial sector yearly compensation:

Click to enlarge.

3. The total collapse of manufacturing jobs in America since 1960: 

Click to enlarge.

4. Unemployment levels since 2007:

Click to enlarge.

5. The staggering rise of household debt -- home mortgages and credit debt:  

Click to enlarge.

Link to original article from AlterNet

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  • A Corporate Coup in Disguise
    A Corporate Coup in Disguise

    The Trans-Pacific Partnership would create a virtually permanent corporate rule over the people. What if our national leaders told us that communities across America had to eliminate such local programs as Buy Local, Buy American, Buy Green, etc. to allow foreign corporations to have the right to make the sale on any products purchased with our tax dollars?

    Written on Thursday, 03 October 2013 03:17 Read more...
  • 'Flush the TPP!': Protesters Scale Trade Building in Protest of Secretive Deal
    'Flush the TPP!': Protesters Scale Trade Building in Protest of Secretive Deal

    Protesters scaled the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative on Monday and dropped banners calling for greater transparency and an end to "corporatocracy" over the ongoing and secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement currently in the works between the United States and several Pacific nations.

    Written on Tuesday, 24 September 2013 03:31 Read more...
  • Secretive Free Trade Agreement Puts Climate, Public Health at Risk
    Secretive Free Trade Agreement Puts Climate, Public Health at Risk

    New warnings on TPP, free trade 'regime' fostering 'global emergency situation'

    As secretive talks over the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)—the pending free trade agreement slammed as "NAFTA on steroids" and "a quiet coup for the investor class"—continue, new warnings highlight the corporate winners and global losers at stake.

    Written on Monday, 16 September 2013 02:45 Read more...
  • Stop the Trans Pacific Partnership Fast Track
    Stop the Trans Pacific Partnership Fast Track

    President Obama has asked Congress to provide “Fast Track” authorization for consideration of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) a new “free trade” deal.

    The negotiations for this new “free trade” agreement have been conducted in secret. Members of Congress as well as the public have no factual information about the contents of this deal.

    Written on Sunday, 15 September 2013 17:36 Read more...
  • TPP Talking Points

    The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a proposed agreement between the U.S. and 12 nations that do business throughout the Pacific Rim. TPP and its European cousin the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (aka TAFTA), are "free trade" agreements that do much more than the term implies.

    Written on Monday, 02 September 2013 00:00 Read more...
  • Obama's secret trade deal threatens prescription drug prices on global scale
    Obama's secret trade deal threatens prescription drug prices on global scale

    The US pharmaceutical industry has been shaping elements of the Obama administration’s secret Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement to favor their own profits. But the deal could also could cause the price of prescription drugs and some medical devices to soar on a global scale.

    Written on Saturday, 27 July 2013 00:00 Read more...
  • Pocan Calls for Increased Transparency on Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement to Protect American Jobs
    Pocan Calls for Increased Transparency on Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement to Protect American Jobs

    Pocan urges Congress not to give up its constitutional authority to oversee foreign trade agreements

    Written on Friday, 14 June 2013 00:00 Read more...
  • Alan Grayson On Trans-Pacific Partnership: Obama Secrecy Hides 'Assault On Democratic Government'
    Alan Grayson On Trans-Pacific Partnership: Obama Secrecy Hides 'Assault On Democratic Government'

    Progressive Democrats in Congress are ramping up pressure on the Obama administration to release the text of Trans-Pacific Partnership, a secretive free trade agreement with 10 other nations, amid intensifying controversy over the administration's transparency record and its treatment of classified information.

    Written on Thursday, 13 June 2013 00:00 Read more...

Join "Countdown to Coverage" Share TPP with your Daily Newspaper

CWA devised a simple plan for which they were uniquely suited: drag TPP out of the shadows and into the light - one city at a time - using a medium they understand intimately: Daily Newspapers!

Two CWA members - Dave Felice in Denver, CO and Madelyn Elder in Portland, OR have started the ball rolling. We just need to keep up the momentum leading up to a big day of petition deliveries.

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Step 1 is to send an Op-Ed to your Daily Newspaper.

Join our Twitter Storm

If you have a Twitter account you can help stop Fast Track on the TPP. Sign-in to your Twitter account and copy and paste the Tweets from our Twitter storm. Or you can copy your favorite Tweet and then click on the map and Tweet your legislator.

Twitter Storm Tweets for Tuesday, January 28th @ 9pm Eastern

Tweets for the special State of the Union Twitter Storm will be posted on January 28th at 8pm EST. Check back for the new Tweets.

Find Your Member of Congress

Click here to quickly find your member of Congress by putting in your home address. This site also features a one-click link to the same information in Spanish

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Then call and ask them to oppose Fast Track on the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Sample script is below.

Script

“I'm a constituent, and I am strongly opposed to my representative giving away Congress’ constitutional authority to control our trade policy. We send people to Congress to stand up for us, not give away their power to stop more American job offshoring and protect us from dangerous imported food that doesn’t meet our safety standards. This latest so-called trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), would not only do that - but also ban Buy American and increase our medicine prices. That’s why it’s crucial that Congress not give away its authority to make sure every provision of TPP is in our interest before this massive deal can be signed. Good trade deals don’t need to be railroaded through Congress using Fast Track. I hope my representative will commit to opposing this outrageous legislation.”

Email Your Senators and Rep - Say No On Fast Track and TPP

Send an email directly to your Senators and Representatives courtesy of our partners at CWA. Enter your zip code and your members are automatically selected.

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Sign the ERA Petition

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On Friday, September 12th more than 150 activists will go to DC and Demand that their Senators and Representatives support removing the ratification deadline from the ERA (SJ Res 15 and HJ Res 113)

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Sign the Petition - Sen. Sanders Run as a Democrat in 2016

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Report on your TPP Contact

Please let us know your legislator's stance on Fast Track Authorization for the Trans Pacific Partnership as well as their stance on the TPP in General. Click here to report the response.

The Trans Pacific Partnership: Corporate Global Domination

Lori Wallach on the TPP from PDA Progressive Roundtable

Progressive Roundtable with Reps. Ellison and Pocan and Lori Wallach on TPP

Lori Wallach Leaked TPP Documents (Democracy NOW)

TPP: The Biggest Threat to the Internet You've Probably Never Heard Of

Lori Wallach on Thom Hartmann (Great Minds) - The TPP

Flush the TPP

Congress only has one more week in session this year, the week of December 9. So far our pressure to stop the TPP has been working. Visit Flush the TPP for calling scripts and links to Members of the Ways and Means Committee.

Flush the TPP

TPP Downloads

The following documents are available from the Oppose TPP Downloads Folder

June 29th TPP Powerpoint

CWA TPP Jobs Report