Class Warfare – Illustrated

It has been interesting these past days to hear about wealthy grumblings from the wealthy corners about potential repeal of Bush tax cuts and Wall Streeters complaining about feeling like “piñatas”. What are they complaining about? They won the class warfare, hands down when it comes to income and wealth distribution. So now, we are supposed to tend to their tender sensitivities?

Let’s review some recent data.

Poverty in the US:

Child Poverty in the US:

As the report notes:

“While the overall poverty rate was high in 2009, the child poverty rate was even higher. Nationwide, one in five children lived in poverty in 2009. The second Map [Above] presents the new data on child poverty rates by state, which ranged from highs of 31.0% in Mississippi and 29.4% in the District of Columbia to a comparable low of 10.8% in New Hampshire.”

And actually, the official poverty rate tends to underestimate poverty:

“Let’s revisit the 2008 Census total stating that 39.8 million Americans lived in poverty. It turns out that the National Academy of Science did its own study and found that 47.4 million Americans actually lived in poverty in 2008. The Census missed 7.6 million Americans living in poverty that year.

How did that happen? The Census Bureau uses a long outdated method to calculate the poverty rate. The Census is measuring poverty based on costs of living metrics established back in 1955 — 55 years ago! They ignore many key factors, such as the increased costs of medical care, child care, education, transportation, and many other basic costs of living. They also don’t factor geographically based costs of living. For example, try finding a place to live in New York that costs the same as a place in Florida.

So the Census poverty rate increase of 3.8 million people will put the 2009 National Academy of Science (NAS) number at a minimum of 51.2 million Americans. And if the margin of discrepancy is equivalent to the 7.6 million of 2008, we are looking at a NAS number of at least 52 million people for 2009.”

And there are many more factors listed over at the link that clearly show a terrifying picture of the extent of real poverty that is actually hidden.

One way in which redistribution to the wealthy has been done in the US is through favorable taxation for the wealthy and their ability to capture greater shares of income and limit taxation on wealth. Click on the image for larger view.

David Cay Johnston explains what these tax cuts did (I had not read this argument before):

Total income was $2.74 trillion less during the eight Bush years than if incomes had stayed at 2000 levels.

That much additional income would have more than made up for the lack of demand that keeps us mired in the Great Recession. That would mean no need for a stimulus, although it would not have affected the last administration’s interfering with market capitalism by bailing out irresponsible Wall Streeters instead of letting the market determine their fortunes.

In only two years was total income up, but even when those years are combined they exceed the declines in only one of the other six years.

Even if we limit the analysis by starting in 2003, when the dividend and capital gains tax cuts began, through the peak year of 2007, the result is still less income than at the 2000 level. Total income was down $951 billion during those four years.

Average incomes fell. Average taxpayer income was down $3,512, or 5.7 percent, in 2008 compared with 2000, President Bush’s own benchmark year for his promises of prosperity through tax cuts.

Had incomes stayed at 2000 levels, the average taxpayer would have earned almost $21,000 more over those eight years. That’s almost $50 per week.”

Emphasis mine.

The result is this:

As Mark Thoma asks:

“Let me ask again: Is it possible for an outcome to be equitable when, as in recent decades, nearly all of the gains from growth accrue to one class?”

It is a rhetorical question, of course. That one is settled.

One way in which this happens is through the political process, of course.

So, guess who has truly recovered from the recession:

“The rebound by the economy and by financial markets has helped to swell the fortunes of the richest 400 Americans, among whom the total wealth has risen to $1.37 trillion, up 8 per cent in a year. In 2009, the price of admission to the list fell below $1bn for the first time since 2006, but it rose back into 10 figures this year.

New entrants include two with ties to Facebook, co-founder Eduardo Saverin, who is worth $1.15bn, and Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard University room-mate, Dustin Moskovitz. Mr Moskovitz left Facebook in 2008 but still has a stake in the social networking giant that is worth $1.4bn on the private market where the company’s shares trade. At 26, eight days younger than Mr Zuckerberg, Mr Moskovitz is now the youngest billionaire on the list.

Mr Zuckerberg, meanwhile, enjoyed the biggest percentage increase in his fortune of anyone on the list, more than tripling to $6.9bn. Now No 35 on the list, he has leapfrogged the established media and technology moguls Rupert Murdoch and Steve Jobs, who are worth $6.2bn and $6.1bn respectively.”

So, yes, I agree with the rules laid out by Bill Maher

“New Rule: The next rich person who publicly complains about being vilified by the Obama administration must be publicly vilified by the Obama administration. It’s so hard for one person to tell another person what constitutes being “rich”, or what tax rate is “too much.” But I’ve done some math that indicates that, considering the hole this country is in, if you are earning more than a million dollars a year and are complaining about a 3.6% tax increase, then you are by definition a greedy asshole.”

And John Scalzi:

“1. If you make a six-figure income, you are not allowed to argue on the Internets that you are poor.

2. You are not allowed to argue that you feel poor, which as we all know is just like being poor.

3. You are not allowed to posit the argument that if you hang around with people who make more than you, then you are allowed to have your wee little heart sing the Poverty Song because, after all, you make less than all of them and your life is sad.”

And Will Hutton’s arguments are written with Great Britain in mind, but they apply to other countries as well:

“We need a shared understanding of what constitutes fairness in order to restore our society. At present, there is none. The rich argue that it is fair for them to be so wealthy, in much the same way as Athenian noblemen believed that their riches were signifiers of their worth. They believe they owe little or nothing to society, government or public institutions. They accept no limit or proportionality to their wealth, benchmarking themselves only against their fellow rich. Philanthropic giving is declining; tax avoidance is rising; and executive pay is rising exponentially. All three are justified by the doctrine that the rich simply deserve to be rich. Meanwhile, the poor, in their view – and that of a virulent right-wing media – largely deserve their plight because they could have chosen otherwise. The mockery of chavs is premised on the assumption that they could be different if they wanted to be. The poor could work, save and show some initiative. So why should we indulge them by giving them state handouts?

(…)

This definition of fairness is a radical idea. It is not egalitarian; it is demanding. It challenges the economic and moral questions that have been ignored over the last two decades – the tolerance of towering disparities in wealth and power and the blind faith in individualism and markets. It is why we now need a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for British capitalism – to examine what happened over the last 10 years, apportion blame, demand atonement and use the lessons learned to build something better in the future. Open competitive markets that deny monopoly and offer proportional returns to productive entrepreneurs are the handmaidens of genuine wealth creation; monopoly and market rigging that reward the incumbent and unproductive are its enemies. Britain has too little of the former “good” capitalism and too much of the latter ” bad capitalism”, one of the reasons it incubated the forces that created the financial crisis. To repeat: fairness is the indispensable value that underpins good economy and society, and it will be the foundation stone of any sustainable new order.

Social polarisation must be halted and reversed. Britain cannot confront its challenges if great swaths of its society are disenfranchised and marginalised. Potential talent cannot be allowed to stand idle; potential opportunity cannot be squandered. Our ailing cities and neighbourhoods must be given their chance. We need to educate the mass of our people to a new level, teach them to use their brains in ways that their 20th-century predecessors never thought possible. This will then trump, or at least mitigate, the familiar cultural icons of class.

Fairness is the value that must saturate and animate the reinvention of British capitalism, our society and the reshaping of the British state. The current British political system and the British media are both in urgent need of reform. If British citizens are to become the authors of their own lives and the drivers of a national renaissance, they need reliable sources of information, genuine opportunities to participate in the political life of the country, and politics itself to possess the power to make a difference. Herd-like, populist, conservative media that disregard the impartiality of fact, do not hold the powerful to account, trivialise the quest for objectivity and, above all, trash plurality – the vital precondition for democratic deliberation – lets down the whole country.”

De Facto Residential Segregation – Illustrated

There has been a lot of blogging already about these very stunning illustrations of residential segregations in major US cities. These are certainly dramatic visuals for anyone teaching race and ethnicity. The legend is as follows:

  • Red = White
  • Blue = Black
  • Green = Asian
  • Orange = Latin

This is Chicago:

This points to the failure of urban policy and urban development in terms of integration as well as the persistence of structural and institutional discriminatory practices such as redlining and racial steering that even voucher policies have not been able to offset. And Chicago is not the most drastic example.

The other examples are just as dramatic:

Interestingly, the famous liberal cities of the Pacific Northwest (Portland, Oregon and Seattle) are very white. And Detroit is very dramatic in the absolute contrast.

This Probably Made All The Teachers Cheer

Admire how, after her outburst, she does not miss a beat and goes back to what she was doing:

Needless to say, in the US, the student would sue the teacher and the school and some new age idiot would blather on as to how students, these days, can multitask and need to be entertained because they’re the Net generation or some such nonsense.

Needless to say, I will use this for my upcoming lectures on deviance, including norm-breaking, social control, and social sanctions as well as power and gender.

Hollow State and The Tyranny of the Local

What happens in a situation where the state is hollow and/or corrupt and local rules prevail? One possibility is this (via):

The discussion in the NYT article is interesting as Pakistani columnists debate the question of whether this act is actually nothing out of the ordinary in this culture, whether Westerners should not judge another culture or impose their moral standards, or whether this is a horrific act but the exception more than the rule.

What they all seem to agree on though is the hollowing of the state, incapable of imposing the rule of law, as illustrated by the passive presence of police officers at the lynching. This hollow state leaves the door wide open to local punishment, with horrible results.

The Visual Du Jour – The Poor Really Are Poorer

Via the EPI:

Note, this is not the share of the population below the poverty line, but those at 50% of the poverty line, that is, those in deep poverty. The current 6.3% is the highest point since that measure has been used for the first time in 1975.

As the article notes,

“This sizable share of the American population falling below half the poverty line is particularly notable given that even the official poverty threshold – an annual income of $21,954 for a family of four – is widely considered insufficient to pay for life’s most basic essentials like food and housing. To fall below half the poverty line, a family of four would have an annual income of less than about $11,000.”

Wealth Inequality? What Wealth Inequality?

Via Lukas Neville, Americans are notoriously ignorant of the actual extent of inequalities. They tend to underestimate it. This goes along with the well-known, well-established lack of class awareness.

So here is a neat illustration of this phenomenon:

This graph show the gap between the actual level of wealth inequality (the highest bar) and the perception by income, political persuasion and gender as well as the ideal by the same categories. It is interesting to see that not only is the wealth of the wealthiest underestimated but the wealth of the poorest is over estimated as well.

Also, Americans are much more egalitarian than one thinks, as illustrated by the “ideal” bars.

Social Statuses and Stigmas

Here are just a couple of things from Monday’s lectures (mine) on social statuses and stigmas.

Case 1: stigmatization based on ascribed status

And the discussion I had with the students, summarized as this (which is where I wanted to go!)

Ascribed Status and Stigma

And case number 2, stigmatization based on achieved status:


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And a comparable discussion which got us here:

Achieved Status and Stigma

Both cases are perfect illustration of the contrast between interpersonal (direct) violence and structural (systemic) violence.

Wealth and Power

What do you think when you read this?

“(1) super-rich financiers on Wall Street and top corporate executives have grown even richer than they were before the Great Recession, even though most Americans are getting poorer or losing their jobs and homes and savings, and more Americans are in poverty.

(2) Yet the lobbyists for the financiers and top corporate executives, and their Republican allies have blocked or tried to block every effort of the Administration to widen the circle of prosperity, including enacting a major jobs program, providing major relief for mortgage holders who are under water, helping working families afford college for their kids, making sure states and cities have enough money to pay our classroom teachers, and cutting taxes on average working people.

(3) They almost scuttled the effort to make sure health care would be affordable to average Americans.

(4) The super-rich say the nation can’t afford any of this because of budget deficits. Yet at the same time their platoons of lobbyists are fighting off efforts to treat their income as taxable earnings rather than capital gains. So last year the 400 richest families in America, with an average income of $300 million each, were taxed at an average rate of only 17 percent. That’s the same tax rate paid by a family earning $30,000.

(5) And they’re fighting off efforts to end the temporary Bush tax cuts. If they’re successful, the richest 1 percent of Americans will get a windfall of $36 billion next year. Millionaire families will avoid paying $31 billion in taxes. Over ten years, they’d avoid paying $700 billion.

(6) And they’re fighting off efforts to restore the estate tax, which only applies to the top 2 percent of Americans, and which has been in effect since Abraham Lincoln introduced it to help finance the Civil War. How do we afford national defense if the richest and most privileged Americans won’t pay their fair share?

(7) Wealth and power in this country are so distorted that the top 25 hedge-fund managers each earned an average of $1 billion last year. $1 billion would support 20,000 classroom teachers. Yet who contributes more to this country — a hedge-fund manager or a teacher?”

Here is the thing: such massive wealth translates into massive power that can effectively derail democracy. This is why taxing the wealthy at a high level is not exclusively about fair redistribution but it is also (and I would argue mainly) about preserving democracy and preventing the massively wealthy from taking control of political systems.

After all, massive wealth is so massive that some massively wealthy individuals are willing to give away half of their fortune, because there is a point at which more wealth does not bring any more benefits. However, the giveaway is also a form of control over economic policy.

And, if I were to be Durkheimian, I would argue that massive wealth also detaches these upper-upper classes from the rest of the social structure and breaks social solidarity between them and the rest of the population (see examples above for illustrations of what that turns into when it comes to pushing for policy). So, high taxation is a way of bringing them back (to a certain extent) to Earth where most of us mortals live.

Bottom line: high taxation of massive wealth is not entirely about money. It is about limiting the power of the wealthy to control the polity against the rest of the population.

The Visuals Du Jour – It’s Nasty Out There

[Light blogging until I get over this dang student-induced cold.]

Contrary to hat the President says, it is not a matter of constantly seeing the glass half-empty. It is the reality for too many people to dismiss or make jokes.

Or maybe too many children:

Children are now one third of people living in poverty in the US.

And there is more than just unemployment. There is underemployment and dropping out of the workforce entirely.

David Dayen, the author of the post from which this illustration comes, states what is going here:

“The employment/population ratio shows far more people out of work than the topline unemployment rate. That’s because of a new phenomenon in our labor markets, where the loss of a job means an increasingly likely scenario of dropping out of the work force permanently. A new paper from Arjun Jayadev and Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute explains:

“Starting at the beginning of 2009 it is now more likely that someone who is unemployed will drop out of the labor force than find a job. This is a new problem for our economy, as this hasn’t happened as far back as data can be found (1967). These workers need targeted intervention before they become completely lost to the normal labor market.”

The percentage of the underemployed, part-time workers who have the skills to work more, has risen across all sectors of the economy as well. But the numbers on those who have dropped out are almost unbelievable. Statistics show that those not in the labor force have accelerated while the labor force itself, with its constant stream of individuals entering and leaving it, has remained flat.”

And for a lot of these workers, especially the older ones, there is a pretty good chance that they might not be able to find work again.

And when one compares depression to depression, with respect to unemployment between the US and Japan, the picture is not much better:

And this post, over at the Global Policy blog, details the many ways in which unemployment leaves long-term societal scars:

Young and innocent

It is normal for young workers to experience higher unemployment rates. In advanced economies, people under 24 are 2.5 times more likely to be looking for a job than the rest of the labour force.

But this recession has hit the young particularly hard, widening the gap with the rest of the population. In countries like France and Italy, youth unemployment is at 20 percent. In Spain, it has reached a staggering 40 percent.

The loss of earnings due to unemployment is not just temporary, it is permanent. Studies show that, when the unemployed find a job again, their salary is usually lower than before. After 15-20 years, earnings are still 15-20% lower than what they would have been without the job loss.

The duration of unemployment is also increasing. In the US, the share of workers who has been unemployed for more than 6 months is heading towards 50 percent. And this does not take into account the discouraged workers, who leave the labour force (they stop looking for jobs) and therefore are not counted in the official statistics.

Moreover, long periods of unemployment reduce workers’ skills, and low-skill workers are less likely to be re-employed. This creates a vicious circle from which many people are unable to get out.

It’s bad for your health

Losing a job is one of the most stressful experiences in life. Not surprisingly, research shows that joblessness is associated with higher risk of heart attacks and other stress-related illnesses. Since unemployment lowers lifetime earnings, and health is correlated with economic wellbeing, the health of the unemployed will be worse for all their remaining life. On average, losing a job lowers life expectancy by 1-1.5 years.

Other household members are also affected.  Research has shown that parental unemployment reduces children’s grades at school. Moreover, because of the strong correlation between parents’ and children’s earnings, parents’ unemployment reduces the future income of children.

Cracks in the wall

Economic downturns also affect people’s beliefs and values.

In a recent paper, Paola Giuliano and Antonio Spilimbergo show that people who go through a recession in the formative years (18-25) believe less in the rewards from personal effort and have less confidence in public institutions. In a similar work, using data from advanced and emerging countries, Duha Altindag and Naci Mocan find that economic hardship translates in to a diminished trust in democracy and an increased desire for authoritarian rule.

In light of the current demographic landscape, this is alarming. People aged 18-25 are the biggest age cohort in Europe today, and, because of low fertility rates, will continue to represent a huge portion of the electorate for many decades. Populist and backward-looking politicians are out there ready to exploit the fears of a scared population.”

Considering all this, the only question is why there is no more vigorous public action against unemployment / underemployment / dropping out of the workforce. Someone with a cynical mind might argue that it is because it does not bother the powers that be all that much.

The Visuals Du Jour – Poverty in the US

It’s all over the news, of course, and it’s not reassuring. Different publications have graphs, so, let’s review:

Note that the lines have been steadily going up since 2000. Hmm, I wonder what could explain that. The Economic Policy Institute calls it The US Lost Decade. It has some telling graphs and data as well:

  • “The poverty rate increased from 13.2% to 14.3% between 2008 and 2009, representing an additional 3.7 million people living in poverty for a total of 43.6 million in poverty in 2009. The poverty rate for children was 20.7% in 2009, representing 15.5 million kids living in poverty. In 2009, over one-third (35.5%) of all people living in poverty were children.
  • The poverty rate for working-age people (18-64 years old) hit 12.9% in 2009, the highest rate in nearly 50 years. The elderly (65 and older) population saw a -0.8 percentage point decrease to 8.9% in 2009, the lowest elderly poverty rate on record. Social Security provides seniors with an income that insulates them against severe economic downturns like the Great Recession.
  • Although significant increases in poverty were felt from 2007 to 2008, it was only the tip of the iceberg.
  • While no single group was spared, white non-Hispanics maintained far lower rates. Hispanics and Asians were particularly hard-hit by increases in poverty in this recession, increasing 3.8 and 2.3 percentage points from 2007-09.
  • The poor are getting poorer.  In 2009, the share of the population below half the poverty line hit a record high of 6.3%.
  • In 2009, over one-third of black children (35.7%) and nearly one-third Hispanic children (33.1%) were living in poverty.  Families (with children) headed by single mothers hit 38.5% in 2009.  Of the 6.6 million families living in poverty, 3.8 million of them were headed by a single mom.
  • The poverty threshold decreased, from $22,025 for a family of four in 2008 to $21,954 in 2009. In the five decades that this measure has existed, 2009 is the first time that the threshold has ever decreased.

Poverty by age categories:

And a last one (but there are many more at the original article):

And this additional bad news from the NYT:

“While poverty levels rose, the number of people without health insurance jumped to 50.7 million in 2009 from 46.3 million a year earlier, leaving 16.7 percent of the population without health coverage, the Census Bureau said in its annual report on income, poverty and health coverage.

The data show that the impact of the economic downturn hit people at lower income levels the hardest, and many more would have fallen into poverty but for the additional unemployment payments approved by Congress, Census spokesman Stanley Rolark told reporters.”

Very bleak picture overall. And not much being done about it overall.

The F@#$ You Conception of Control – Vive La Mondialisation Edition

Two items that allow companies to evade oversight, regulations and well, the law through mechanisms linked to globalization.

First off:

“The security company Blackwater Worldwide formed a network of 30 shell companies and subsidiaries to try to get millions of dollars in government business after the company faced strong criticism for reckless conduct in Iraq, The New York Times reported Friday.

The newspaper said that it was unclear how many of the created companies got American contracts but that at least three of them obtained work with the U.S. military and the CIA.

(…)

However, the Times quoted former Blackwater officials as saying that at least two Blackwater-affiliated companies, XPG and Greystone, obtained secret contracts from the CIA to provide security to agency operatives.

The newspaper said the network of subsidiaries, including several located in offshore tax havens, were uncovered as part of the Armed Services Committee’s examination of government contracting and not an investigation solely into Blackwater. But Levin questioned why Blackwater would need to create so many companies with various names to seek out government business, according to the Times.

The report quoted unidentified government officials and former Blackwater employees as saying that the network of companies allowed Blackwater to obscure its involvement in government work from contracting officials and the public, and to ensure a low profile for its classified activities.”

How convenient.

And then this:

“Many European companies that publicly embrace workers’ rights under global labor standards nevertheless undermine workers’ rights in their US operations, Human Rights Watch said in a report issued today.

The 128-page report, “A Strange Case: Violations of Workers’ Freedom of Association in the United States by European Multinational Corporations,” details ways in which some European multinational firms have carried out aggressive campaigns to keep workers in the United States from organizing and bargaining, violating international standards and, often, US labor laws.

Companies cited include Germany-based Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile USA and Deutsche Post’s DHL, UK-based Tesco’s Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets and G4S Wackenhut security, France-based Sodexo food services and Saint-Gobain industrial equipment, Norway-based Kongsberg Automotive, and the Dutch firm Gamma Holding.

“The behavior of these companies casts serious doubt on the value of voluntary commitments to human rights,” said Arvind Ganesan, director of the Business and Human Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “Companies need to be held accountable, to their own stated commitments and to strong legal standards.”

Among the violations documented in the report are practices of forcing workers into “captive audience” meetings to hear anti-union harangues while prohibiting pro-union voices, threatening dire consequences if workers form unions, threatening to permanently replace workers who exercise the right to strike, spying on employee organizers, and even firing workers who support organizing efforts at companies.”

It is the beauty of globalization that companies get to pick and choose what kind of regulatory environment to which they can subject themselves but it should not really be seen as great that the US is the destination for companies that want a union-free environment. Next thing you know, EU companies might use the US as their own maquiladora.

Of course, none of this is entirely surprising. As Saskia Sassen and others have written over the years, government of the nation-states have been active participant in de-nationalizing their responsibility, either through elimination of social protections or transfer to entities of global governance what used to be their purview.

As Laurent Bonelli and Willy Pelletier note in their book The Dismantled State: Investigation on a Silent Revolution (sorry, only in French),

“Révolution silencieuse ? Oui, parce que si les réformes néolibérales de l’Etat s’effectuent parfois à grand renfort de publicité (privatisation de la Poste, restriction des budgets de l’hôpital public ou de l’Education nationale), elles sont le plus souvent peu visibles, progressives, s’emboîtant « naturellement » les unes aux autres, faisant valoir qu’« il n’y a pas d’alternative ». Et elles ne rencontrent que des protestations sectorielles, peu coordonnées, encore moins médiatisées. Elles passent par un décret, une directive, une circulaire, voués à demeurer obscurs et confidentiels, dans certains cas élaborés par des cabinets d’audit privés. Souvent inaperçues, sauf pour ceux qui en affrontent directement les conséquences…

Voyager dans la « réforme de l’Etat », en relater les effets, conduit à mesurer que l’avenir même des services publics est en jeu. C’est-à-dire celui d’un modèle de société.”

The gist: the silent revolution are all these neoliberal reforms of the State, sometimes implemented with much publicity (such as spectacular privatization which will bring efficiency and modernity to crumbling public services such as postal services, the reduction of budget of public hospitals or of public education, both usually highly unionized, unsurprisingly). But more often, these reforms are almost invisible, implemented progressively, each almost “naturally” being attached to the already-implemented measures, in a kind of path-dependency from which there is no alternative.

This is often accomplished without much protest, except for a few sectorial union job actions (often then depicted in the media as archaic organizations that no longer have their place in the neoliberal utopia). These reforms often bypass parliamentary mechanisms and are adopted through executive orders, directives, decrees that look like simple technical fixes, couched in obscure language and that remain largely out of sight of the general public. The only people who become aware of these reforms are their direct victims who have to deal with the social consequences.

Adventures in College Teaching – Just Shoot Me Now

Me: [explaining how ascribed statuses can determine and narrow the range of achievable statuses] How many women US presidents have we had?

Class: none

Me: how many non-white president? Or even non-whites on the ticket?

Class: One, Obama

Me: How many non-Christian?

Class: None

Some dude: one

Me: who?

Dude: Obama

Class: a few chuckles

Me: don’t tell where you got that from. And no, he’s Christian.

Saints And Roughnecks 2.0… Only Worse

Todd Krohn, over at The Power Elite, continues his exposing of the criminalization of adolescence through a variety of measures often under the banner of “zero tolerance”, the educational version of the oh-so-effective broken windows theory of crime.

What is the broken windows theory of crime?

“The concept of broken windows was developed by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling who published their article titled Broken Windows: The police and Neighbour Safety in the March, 1982 edition of The Atlantic Monthly. The authors posited their theory in the following words: “Social psychologists and police officers tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. This is as true in nice neighborhoods as in run-down ones. Window breaking does not necessarily occur on a large scale because some areas are inhabited by determined window-breakers whereas others are populated by window-lovers; rather, one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing (it has always been fun).”[2] “The essence of Broken Windows,” explains Charles Pollard, “is that minor incivilities (such as drunkenness, begging, vandalism, disorderly behaviour, graffiti, litter etc.), if unchecked and uncontrolled, produce an atmosphere in a community or on a street in which more serious crime will flourish.”[3] In other words, crimes flourish because of lax enforcement.”

Loic Wacquant makes mincemeat of it:

“According to Wacquant it is not the police who make crime go away. A trenchant critic of Giuliani-Bratton police work, Waquant puts forth the view that six factors independent of police work have significantly reduced crime rates in America. First, the boom in economy provided jobs for youth and diverted them from street crimes. Even though the official poverty rate of New York City remained unchanged at 20% during the entire decade of the 1990s, Latinos benefited by the deskilled labour market. The blacks, buoyed by the hope of the flourishing economy, went back to school and avoided illegal trade. Thus even though under-employment and low paid work persisted there was decline of aggregate unemployment rates which explains 30% decrease in national crime rates.

Second, there was twofold transformation in drug trade. The retail trade in crack in poor neighbourhoods attained stability. The turf wars subsided and violent competition among rival gangs decreased. The narcotic sector had become oligopolised. This resulted in a sharp drop in drug related street murders. In 1998 it dropped below the one hundred mark from 670 murders in 1991. The change in consumption of drugs went from crack to other drugs such as marijuana, heroin, and methamphetamines, a trade which is less violent as it is based on networks of mutual acquaintances rather than anonymous exchange places.

Third, the number of young people (age group between 18-24) declined. It must be noted that the young people in this age group are found most responsible for crimes. The AIDS epidemic among drug users, drug overdose deaths, gang related homicides and young criminals imprisoned eliminated this group by 43,000. This decline of young people resulted in the drop of street crimes by 1/10th.

Fourth, the impact of learning effect that the deaths of earlier generations of young people had on the later generation, especially those born after 1975-1980, avoided drugs and stayed away from risky life styles.

Fifth, the role played by churches, schools, clubs and other organizations in awareness and prevention campaigns exercised informal social control and helped to control crimes.

Sixth, the statistical law of regression states that when there is abnormally high incidence of crime it is likely to decline and settle towards the mean.[10] Wacquant concludes that the dynamic interplay of the six factors was largely responsible for the drop in crime rates in America and the claim that policing alone was responsible for the drop in crimes at best rests on shaky empirical data.”

Zero tolerance is the same idea often applied by school authorities against adolescent behavior. In reality, the application is always biased against certain categories of the population (surprise, surprise). Krohn:

“Back in the 1970’s criminologist William Chambliss published an infamous study of juvenile delinquency entitled “The Saints and The Roughnecks.” In it, Chambliss documented how school teachers and principals often discipline students based merely on their appearance, social class and race and ethnicity (he would also show disparate treatment in the larger community, by law enforcement, in the court system, and so on).

But in school, students who were minority or working class in appearance were often punished and suspended for infractions their white, middle class-looking brethren would often escape punishment. And now we can conclude that things have only gotten worse in the last 30+ years.

Racial Disparity in School Suspensions Grows:

The study analyzed four decades of federal Department of Education data on suspensions, with a special focus on figures from 2002 and 2006, that were drawn from 9,220 of the nation’s 16,000 public middle schools.

The study, “Suspended Education: Urban Middle Schools in Crisis,” was published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization.

Throughout America’s public schools, in kindergarten through high school, the percent of students suspended each year nearly doubled from the early 1970s through 2006, the authors said, an increase that they associate, in part, with the rise of so-called zero-tolerance school discipline policies.In 1973, on average, 3.7 percent of public school students of all races were suspended at least once. By 2006, that percentage had risen to 6.9 percent.

Both in 1973 and in 2006, black students were suspended at higher rates than whites, but over that period, the gap increased. In 1973, 6 percent of all black students were suspended. In 2006, 15 percent of all blacks were suspended.

Among the students attending one of the 9,220 middle schools in the study sample, 28 percent of black boys and 18 percent of black girls, compared with 10 percent of white boys and 4 percent of white girls, were suspended in 2006, the study found.

Beyond the racial, ethnic and class disparities lies the issue of “zero-tolerance” which, as we now know, means “zero-sense.” The ongoing criminalizing of childhood and adolescence has had a real effect, via the suspension process, on a generation of kids.”

And as Krohn notes, with the Duncan Department of Education dangling money under the noses of the states in exchange for charter schools and higher test scores, there are really no incentive to not suspend or expell.

Behold The New New Economy: Unemployment and Organized Crime

Via Ezra Klein (I know, I know):

Which means that even if there were to be a recovery (big if), first, a lot of the lost jobs will be come back, but also those who are able to find jobs will find themselves with considerably lower income than they had. None of this will help the demand crisis we are currently experiencing.

The only economy that seems to be working right now? The illegal one, and it keeps the system afloat:

“Leading banks around the world, desperate for cash in the financial crisis, turn to the proceeds of organised crime as “the only liquid investment capital” available, eventually absorbing the greater part of a staggering $352bn of drugs profits into the global economic system, laundering that vast sum in the process.

Sounds far-fetched, but that’s no fiction. That tale was published in the Observer in December 2009, when the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime admitted that colossal piles of drugs money had kept the world financial system afloat when it looked dangerously close to collapse.

The story broke long after Le Carré had finished Our Kind of Traitor, but it confirmed everything the new novel is saying: that a huge slice of the global economy, as much as a fifth on some estimates, is made up of the fruits of organised crime; that the criminals behind that money have found a thousand ingenious ways to disguise its origins – and those we might expect to stand in the way, including reputable banks and elected politicians, instead help smooth its path out of the black economy and into the white.”

If that is not the ultimate proof that there is something really rotten, I don’t know what is. How does it work?

“The scale is enormous. The Serious Organised Crime Agency – Soca – puts revenue from organised crime in the UK alone at £15bn and admits that is likely to be a very conservative (and dated) estimate. Add in profits from Russia, India and beyond and the numbers reach the stratosphere.

None of that wealth would be much use to the gangsters if it stayed in telltale cash, betraying its tainted origins. So these real-life Dimas devise ever more ingenious ways to pass it off as legit. Property is a favourite: buy a house, sell it on and the proceeds become clean. A department store works just as well, as does a football club. Or create a series of shell companies registered behind a brass plate in faraway Vanuatu or the Solomon Islands, one owning another owning another, financial Russian dolls that “exhaust and bamboozle investigators”, according to Misha Glenny, whose book McMafia is the go-to guide to this new realm of international, multibillion-dollar crime.

Sadly, he includes London in that roll call of safe havens, places attractive to those with illicit fortunes to bleach clean. Once Gordon Brown set his heart on London outstripping New York as the world’s financial capital, Glenny argues, the inevitable result was lighter regulation, “no stress entry” for big fortunes, non-dom arrangements and an entire legal architecture hospitable to the mega-wealthy.”