The Political Economy of Mass Incarceration – We cannot simultaneously talk of freedom and allow “incarceration nation” to continue to expand… Well, we can, but we shouldn’t.
However, there are some very important differences between the political economy of the mainly agrarian, Jim Crow penal system and the current, urban system of mass incarceration. If the penal system functioned as a system of social control in both eras, the aim of that social control was very different. In the Jim Crow era, the central issue was how to get formerly slaves to work for their former masters on the plantations now that blacks enjoyed a nominal freedom. As Eric Foner showed in his classic Nothing But Freedom, turning former slaves into an agricultural proletariat is the central political question of all post-emancipation societies. The shift from coerced slave labor to forced wage-labor is not a natural one, and emancipated slaves often have a different idea about the freedom they ought to enjoy than former masters. As Foner showed, in the Reconstruction South, blacks preferred just about anything to selling their labor to former masters. They engaged in subsistence farming, moved to cities, and in some cases – such as in Edisto Island – they occupied former plantations and ran the farms themselves, until the end of Reconstruction brought an end to their political and social power and land was returned to former slave masters.
Cocaine, Death Squads, and the War on Terror – There is nothing about the so called “war on drugs” that makes sense to me. Would this surprise me? I don’t know. These things are always ugly when you peel back the simplistic facade of do-gooderism, and yet still… I have trouble with institutional evil. Individual evil, sure… Corruption, idiocy, selfishness & greed? Sure, no problem… But systematic evil still gives me pause. Not that I can’t believe it, but it is tougher to synch my mind up with that kind of concept.
The book’s argument that “[t]he war on drugs and terror in Colombia is in fact a war for the control of the cocaine trade—in a system of imperial domination—by means of state-sponsored terror” is summarized in the conclusion as follows: “This war as decreed by successive Washington administrations was, is, and remains its opposites: a war for drugs and a war of terror.”
Of course, such assessments are not easily grafted onto the consciousness of a populace conditioned to impute noble—or at least sincere and non-paradoxical—motives to U.S. projects abroad. If the U.S. is to attain the minimum amount of self-awareness necessary for any society that considers itself free, the proliferation of studies like Villar and Cottle’s is a prerequisite.
Anarchy at the Fed! – I like David Graeber. I do. But I don’t know whether to be optimistic about this or stockpile guns and canned goods.
The central bankers recently had David Graeber, author of Debt: The First 5,000 Years, down to talk to them, where he told them about the need for debt relief. He reports that they were very receptive to his message, fearing another economic crisis if nothing is done, though they probably wouldn’t go as far as his call for a Jubilee-style writeoff. It is utterly fascinating that this Vatican of capital called a prominent anarchist intellectual in for a consultation.)