Some Inconvenient Economic Truths:

Following are some thoughts on a proposed new jail for Harrisonburg.

In assessing the issues raised by the new jail proposal, our medium and long term goals should be informed by the new post-crisis economic reality and by the political reality that the forces of reaction have lost their legitimacy and are in disarray.

In Harrisonburg, the myth of the 'silent majority' was exposed in our Martin Luther King, Jr. Way street renaming. We affirmed the moral/spiritual, aspiration to build our community on the basis of an inclusive 'our.' We now need to realign the machinery of our municipal government with this symbolic marker of political direction and political legitimacy.

In thinking about alternatives, we should prepare for moving from networks of prisons to networks of jobs, in the spirit of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s advocacy for the Freedom Budget- a federally funded job guarantee. In following this dream, we should orient toward finding and serving leadership from those who are most affected and the families and internal community structures that have the latent ability to sustain them.

Describing the job guarantee program Fadhel Kaboub writes:

"Community groups would identify local needs, prioritize projects and recruit unemployed individuals from the local community to implement, supervise and assess outcomes of each project. This is a decentralized participatory system of community empowerment. However, funding for the Job Guarantee program would come from the federal government in the form of grants to local community organizations."

See the rest of Professor Kaboub's article at:
fight poverty

Todd Clear, author of an influential article entitled "Boomerang: How Prison Makes Crime Worse." writes of the latent power in these communities:

"We miss the point that we are wasting an enormously powerful reservoir of resources in these neighborhoods."

"And we are making them weaker. Rather than being able to use them as investments to strengthen the neighborhoods, we end up making them less capable of doing the kinds of things that families and people in relationships with each other do to try to make their lives better."
"The second thing that we learned was that there was a conversation going on in these neighborhoods about incarceration. They got it. We heard again and again: "If this was being done in a white neighborhood, no one would stand for it. The only reason they are getting away with this is because they are locking up young black men." And we heard them say: "Look, we want to be protected and safe like everybody else. And there are people in our neighborhood who if you locked them up we'd be better off, but mostly you're locking up our sons and our brothers and our cousins, and they just need help. They need to get a job; they need to get off drugs. But they're not dangerous to us. And when you lock them up, you know what? They come back anyway, and they come back worse."

You can see the rest of the story here:
Todd Clear

We have repeatedly heard that the reason for acting quickly on the jail proposal is that we are facing a cost of 1.2 million dollars to house people at Middle River. What would happen if we built a new jail this year, rather than next year? Roughly speaking, 1.2 million dollars would be spent to house the prisoners at the new jail rather than at Middle River. The difference would be that the 1.2 million would be payed to local contractors and employees. Thus, what we have is a disguised version of classic penal Keynesianism in which a community seeks to boost its local economy by drawing in state funds to imprison a portion of its self.

For a discussion of penal Keynesianism, see a paper by Wray on which I was research assistant. The numbers are old and the approach I proposed, in parallel with Kaboub, builds upon that of Wray:

Penal Keynesianism

Macroeconomic Background:

The federal government does not have to worry about the debt or the deficit. It only has to worry about whether the things to which it gives permissions are good for the country. Federal spending is a political decision that is limited only by the capabilities of the country. There is no financial budget constraint. The federal government cannot run out of permissions to give. Since the Great Financial Crisis, this inconvenient truth is becoming unavoidable. It spells doom to the ideology of austerity that has been hegemonic in recent decades.

The ideology of austerity is summed up in a protest from a planter at the start of Reconstruction to the effect that freed slaves would not work without the overseer, the hounds, and the whip. Proponents of austerity ranging from Bill Clinton and his fateful surplus that doomed us to the private debt crisis, to Bob Goodlatte with his wish for a balanced budget amendment, or the further fringes with their calls for a return to the gold standard, try to artificially bind the country in order to tip the balance away from voter power because, like the planters of old and the Northerners who acquiesced to their protests, they favor property over people.

The private sector in the US has ceased to be able to fully employ people. The intellectual cover legitimating the ideology of austerity that prevented us from acting to solve this problem has been undermined by events since the great financial crisis. Eventually, the people will realize that we can _take care of our own._ Eventually, we will adopt a federally funded job guarantee -- the Freedom Budget advocated by Martin Luther King, Jr.