Are US Prisons A Foretaste Of The New US Economy?
I saw this story yesterday and was horrified. I try to be skeptical of Russia Today, but unless that footage they showed of private prisons corporations advertising their “services” is fake, then this is really bad news for America.
According to the story, private prisons are advertising low cost labor, offering their prisoners up to other corporations as a workforce. If you watch the video, you will see prisons boasting that they are bringing back industry to America from places like China.
For the record, I think all “prisons” should be private. But by that, I mean, that people who commit property crimes, if they cannot repay the victim, ought to be assigned a corporation who pays the victim back and then makes back their money by contracting out the prisoner’s labor.
But that is not what is going on in this story. These “private prisons” aren’t really private. They are basically government contractors. Our tax money keeps them in business just as our tax money keeps the public prisons going. They may cost slightly less than the state-run prison, but they are not completely private.
So the “labor” being offered by these prisons, is not really low-cost labor. It may be low-cost from the perspective of the contracting company that wants to pay a low wage, but it is not really low from the standpoint of what the prisoner needs to support himself and stay alive. Instead, the prisoners have their food, shelter, clothing, and healthcare paid for by the taxpayers. Then, on top of getting all that plunder from the taxpayer, the prison companies can make even more money by contracting with other companies for the labor of their prisoners. They are selling subsidized labor.
What does this do? It means that some companies get cheaper labor than is available in the general population. This will force wages downward, or—in the case of minimum wage law—produce greater unemployment. People will be taxed in order to create competitors to take their jobs and leave them unemployed. This is especially perverse because these prison industries lobby for tougher laws and sometimes even help write laws that can create more prisoners.
But I think there is an aspect of prison labor that is even creepier. The way prison labor provides basic services and then encourages people to become wage slaves seems to be an exaggerated version of life on the outside. Increasingly, we find people in low wage and/or part-time jobs, who essentially stay alive through food stamps or other benefits. Even before Obamacare, a friend of mine told me how people were happy to work at his convenience store for not much more than twenty thousand dollars a year. But what about medical care? The state was providing some of those benefits to the poor.
This can sound compassionate, but what does it mean that the poor get this kind of help with basic expenses? I think it is an obvious benefit to some businesses that these people do not demand higher wages. They don’t try to find better jobs and they don’t try to get training to make them ready for higher paying jobs. The state uses tax payer funds to keep them more satisfied at low-paying jobs than they would be otherwise.
Now that Obamacare is here, the situation is much worse. All these industries are essentially the same as prison labor corporations. They subsidize wage earners and provide the basic needs for American “prisoners” so that they can afford to stay in menial jobs.
There is no way this sort of economic system can stay solvent. But I have to wonder sometimes if our ruling class wants a nation of controlled, low-income workers. That certainly seems to be the direction in which we are headed.
Perhaps the elite’s hope is for the whole country to become a giant labor camp.
Mark Horne has been studying the intersection of ethics and the economy since high school. He was raised in Liberia, West Africa and Kwajalein, Marshall Islands, as well as on the Atlantic coast of Florida. He graduated from Houghton College in 1989 and from Covenant Theological Seminary in 1998. He was ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America and has pastored churches in Washington state and Oklahoma, as well as serving as an assistant pastor in St. Louis.