Dwarfing Wal-Mart

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Ever wonder how many people it takes to incarcerate 2.25 million inmates? Ask Glenn Loury:

We have a corrections sector that employs more Americans than the combined work forces of General Motors, Ford, and Wal-Mart, the three largest corporate employers in the country, and we are spending some $200 billion annually on law enforcement and corrections at all levels of government, a fourfold increase (in constant dollars) over the past quarter century…

As of 2000, 33 states had abolished limited parole (up from 17 in 1980); 24 states had introduced three-strikes laws (up from zero); and 40 states had introduced truth-in-sentencing laws (up from three). The vast majority of these changes occurred in the 1990s, as crime rates fell.

This new system of punitive ideas is aided by a new relationship between the media, the politicians, and the public. A handful of cases—in which a predator does an awful thing to an innocent—get excessive media attention and engender public outrage. This attention typically bears no relation to the frequency of the particular type of crime, and yet laws—such as three-strikes laws that give mandatory life sentences to nonviolent drug offenders—and political careers are made on the basis of the public's reaction to the media coverage of such crimes.

The last bit neatly encapsulates the expansion of the category "sex offender" (just ask Genarlow Wilson), but is Loury really trying to claim that this represents a "new relationship" between media and politics? Racially charged moral panic is a hallowed tradition (see the Mann Act of 1910), the vulnerability of chaste young white women not being a concept wholly invented by Fox News. Loury focuses on drugs because it's the category of offenses most relevant to racial disparity at the moment, but the dynamic is the same as it was a century ago.

Loury's whole piece is worth a read. For a concise illustration of nearly every point Loury touches on, check out Radley Balko's telling of the Cory Maye story.

Via A&L Daily. 

NEXT: Fear! Fear Will Keep the Heterosexuals in Line!

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  1. “see the Mann Act of 1910…[and]…the vulnerability of chaste young white women not being a concept wholly invented by Fox News.

    C’mon. There was no 24-7 ‘news’ channels in 1910. We have become an information culture, people spend their lives watching other people live their lives. Of course there is a “new relationship.” We don’t live in a world where news is on a couple of times a day, and if you missed it, you missed it. BS events take on huge dimensions for no other reason than they are repeated over and over again. You could at least recognize that the media feeds this stuff, and even if it isn’t new, the scale and scope is certainly unprecedented.

  2. Yeah the post was fine and all, but seriously, don’t feed the trolls.

  3. True fact: if there were no trolls, blogging and the internet would have closed for business on April 6, 2005.

  4. What would dumb white guys do without the military-incarcerational complex?

  5. In the fiscal year 1986 to 87
    local state and federal governments
    spent up to a combined total 15.6 million dollars on law enforcement.

    Federal law enforcement expenditures ranked last in absolute dollars,
    and accounted for only 6% of all federal spending.

    By way of comparison,
    the federal government spent 24 million more on space exploration,
    43 times more on national defense and international relations
    than on law enforcement.

  6. Maybe when Ron Paul is President Wal-Mart can offer prisons, too!

  7. If America to going to keep growing into a big healthy prison state, it’s going to have to eat more and more of us!

  8. “The vast majority of these changes occurred in the 1990s, as crime rates fell.”

    Perhaps locking more people up had something to do with the crime rate falling? In reason land, the only people in prison are single moms and straight A college students who were caught with a joint and given life sentences by redneck judges in a scene out of Cool Hand Luke. In the real world, there are some scary people out there who need to be in prison. The better question to ask is not why are we locking people up but why do we have a society that seems to produce so many criminals.

  9. The better question to ask is not why are we locking people up but why do we have a society that seems to produce so many criminals.

    I think a big reason is the failings of our public education system, particularly in poor areas.

  10. Which reminds me, I need to write back to Cory.

    *fetches stationery*

  11. Wow! Thanks for posting this. It’s a libertarian issue I can relate to. Doesn’t it raise a serious questions about the state of the economy? If all those people weren’t in prison, our unemployment rate would probably one of the highest in the world. We surely spend more on incarceration and war than the most nannyish of nanny states spends on welfare and healthcare.

  12. Edward–

    Your statement about uemployment rates and people in prison has been put forward before, and even if every single one of our prisoners were on the streets and unemployed it would not have a significant impact on the unemployment rate.

  13. Inmates are disproportionately drawn from the most disadvantaged parts of society. On average, state inmates have fewer than 11 years of schooling. They are also vastly disproportionately black and brown.

    Let’s translate: Inmates are disproportionately actual criminals. Criminals, especially violent criminals, tend to be stupid and uneducated. Blacks and, er, Hispanics (I assume he wasn’t referring to S Asian Hindus, for example, since they generally have very low crime rates regardless of their economic conditions) have high crime rates (and poverty) in every country they inhabit in non-trivial numbers. And, of course, it’s all Whitey’s fault, whether present or not.

  14. Translation: I have a huge chip on my shoulder about race, and look for it everything.

  15. I can understand the libertarian distaste for the power of the state, although it appears to reflect a natural human tendency to organize hierarchies of power. But–in our case, at least–concern over the manifestation of state power in tax money spent on welfare seems misdirected. What we don’t spend on welfare we end up spending on prisons. Prisons are a particularly nasty form of state power. In this regard we’re less like the Swedes and more like the Chinese. What am I missing?

  16. Prisons are a particularly nasty form of state power. In this regard we’re less like the Swedes and more like the Chinese. What am I missing?

    The Swedes don’t have prisoners because they don’t have blacks. All we have to do is sterilize the muds and end non-white immigration, then in a few years America will be utopia.

  17. Cesar,

    Are you sure? An extra 2.25 million people looking for work seems like a lot.

  18. Are you sure? An extra 2.25 million people looking for work seems like a lot.

    In a country of 300 million, thats .075% of the population.

  19. Mr. F. Le Mur

    So how would a libertarian society with a minimal state deal with large criminally inclined minorities?

  20. Cesar,

    But it wouldn’t be just the 2.25 million ex-cons looking for work, but all those employed in running the prisons–more than those employed by GM, Ford, and Wal-Mart combined, according to the posted piece.

  21. But it wouldn’t be just the 2.25 million ex-cons looking for work, but all those employed in running the prisons–more than those employed by GM, Ford, and Wal-Mart combined, according to the posted piece.

    Its been shown that whenever a government job is eliminated, many more are created in the private sector. We could have lower taxes because we wouldn’t be funding all those prisons and prison jobs, which would grow the economy.

  22. Oh, and Mr. F. Le Mur isn’t a libertarian, hes just a massive twat.

  23. Cesar,

    Where has that been shown?

  24. Edward-

    I cannot find the study now, but I do know that we spend billions in taxes on prisons. If we didn’t have to do that, our taxes would be lower and lower taxes mean more private sector jobs.

  25. Are you sure? An extra 2.25 million people looking for work seems like a lot.

    According to the US Dept. of Labor statistics, the unemployment rate was 4.5% in April which represented 6.8 million people. If you were to make the (dubious) assumption that all 2.25 million prisoners would be unemployed if they weren’t in prison, that would, according to the April numbers, increase the unemployment rate to 5.9%.

    Not an insignificant increase perhaps, but still relatively low and still well below countries like France (8.7%), Germany (7.1%) and the EU overall (8.5%), and still slightly below Canada (6.4%).

  26. Kwix, Edward got his wish…. that was really amazingly well done. I am impressed.

  27. Here’s an argument that public investment drive private investment:

    http://www.waxingamerica.com/2005/11/private_sector_.html

    …public investment drives private investment and you need the two to make an economy sing.

    In the 19th century gifts of public lands to the railroads led to transportation hubs and great commercial centers
    In the 1950’s public investment in the interstate highway system led to enormous investment in the suburbs and the south
    California’s aerospace industry and that half of Houston not built on oil, came from the evolution of NASA and public expenditures into space research and technology
    Here in Madison, Monona Terrace led to hundreds of millions of dollars of private investment and a corresponding growth in the property tax base.
    Private capital follows public investment in education. In fact, go ask some of those captains of commerce and manufacturing if they really believe taxes should be lowered and public schools abandoned. You do not hear them crying for tax cuts in the suburban public schools their children attend; usually they are the first to support the bond referendum.
    I’m waiting for President Bush to go before the United States Chamber of Commerce and tell them that spending billions of local and state tax dollars on Major League Ball Stadium from Texas to Milwaukee and from California to Florida was a bad idea.
    Same for Football
    And then there is the every day business of showing up to work healthy and safely. Or should we take a cue from Jonathan Swift and just let the surplus population die in the next flu pandemic.
    Hurricane Katrina. An example of where lack of public investment led to the destruction of private property.

  28. In this regard we’re less like the Swedes and more like the Chinese. What am I missing?

    The Swedes live in a completely homogeneous culture that’s about the size of Greater Los Angeles on a crowded weekend.

  29. The better question to ask is not why for what offenses (hint: drugs) are we locking people up

  30. Empire!

  31. Are you sure? An extra 2.25 million people looking for work seems like a lot.

    In a country of 300 million, thats .075% of the population.

    Try 0.75% of the population.

  32. The Wine Commonsewer-Reg US Pat Off

    Okay, point taken. But in terms of incarceration, we’re more like the Chinese than we are like any other western democracy. Our large prison population together with all those employed in prisons is bound to have an effect on our economy; that is, it keeps unemployement relatively low. This doesn’t seem like a healthy situation. What are the libertarian solutions? I know that leaglizing drugs is one, and I agree with it.

  33. the category of offenses most relevant to racial disparity at the moment

    dog fighting

  34. Edward, I don’t disagree with you on the prison population, it’s just that a lot of people all over the spectrum like to point to Sweden and say those guys are right and America is icky. There is simply no way that we can emulate the Swedes even if we wanted to.

    I personally am in favor of abolishing all victimless crimes (well, duh, there’s a surprise) and implementing a consistent and sensible system of justice that dispenses with plea bargains, parole, and probation entirely.

    You rob a liquor store, you get a trial, the point of which is to determine if you actually robbed the liquor store. If you get convicted, you go to jail for the exact same amount of time that everyone else who robbed a liquor store went to jail for. When you’re done, you’re done and you walk out a free man.

    That right there eliminates a huge chunk of bureaucracy. No piss tests, no parole officers, no probation officers, nobody in jail for paying for sex, smoking a doob, snorting a line, playing with the soap in the showers at the local bath house, etc and you get my drift…..

  35. Oh, and guess which union is the most powerful union right here in the Golden State of Californicate?

  36. Here’s an argument that public investment drive private investment:

    Even if we accept that as true, it does not imply that

    …you need the two to make an economy sing.

    In other words, simply showing that A &rarr B does not show that A’ &rarr B’.

    Hurricane Katrina. An example of where lack of public investment led to the destruction of private property.

    No, Hurricane Katrina was an example of where a hurricane led to the destruction of private property.

  37. Hurricane Katrina was an example of a corrupt, backwards state being unable to deal with a local concern.

    Compare, if you will, how North Carolina and Florida handled their hurricanes to how Louisiana handled theirs.

  38. The Wine Commonsewer-Reg US Pat Off

    Yeah, Sweden is Sweden. It’s also home to some very successful private enterprises such as Ikea and manages to combine a market economy with humane social policies. My fear is that great social inequality here–an inequality partly reflected in the high incarceration rate–will give rise to a populist backlash against free trade.

  39. I love that Edward is talking to the F. Le Mur impersonator (although it is hard to be sure which one is the impersonator and which is the real one). Trolls trolling trolls who troll trolls.

  40. I love that Edward is talking to the F. Le Mur impersonator (although it is hard to be sure which one is the impersonator and which is the real one). Trolls trolling trolls who troll trolls.

    What do you mean I’m an impersonator? Blacks and hispanics are inferior, the white race is superior. We don’t have any criminals or poor people. Long live the aryan people! 14/88!

    (BUT DONT CALL ME A RACIST!!!)

  41. I love that thoreau loves that one troll talks to another troll. Non-trolls commenting on trolls trolling trolls who troll trolls. If a non-troll trolls trolls who troll trolls is the non-troll a troll trolling trolls who troll trolls or just a bozo with too much time on his hands?

  42. (BUT DONT CALL ME A RACIST!!!)

    I already have. He’ll be here to pick you up in ten minutes.

  43. Somebody call a racist?

  44. Edward –

    How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood for the internet age!

    Bravo, sir

  45. I sure hope some Reasonoid bloogs on this from Arts & Letters Daily:

    The downside of diversity
    A Harvard political scientist finds that diversity hurts civic life. What happens when a liberal scholar unearths an inconvenient truth?

    http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2007/08/05/the_downside_of_diversity/?page=full

  46. We have a corrections sector that employs more Americans than the combined work forces of General Motors, Ford, and Wal-Mart, the three largest corporate employers in the country,

    In keeping with the rest of that fluffy little article, it’s not true:

    http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes333012.htm
    Correctional Officers and Jailers: 417,810 employees (total US).

    http://www.vault.com/
    General Motors: 280,000 employees
    Ford: 283,000 employees
    Wal-Mart: 1,900,000 employees.

  47. FWIW: some doofus who’s upset that the world doesn’t match his PC fantasies has been faking my name on a couple of posts.

  48. Mr. F. Le Mur (If that’s your real name)

    You’re leaving out employees in private correctional facilities.

    Also, some of those Wal-Mart people aren’t being paid enough to qualify as employees.

  49. Oh of course Lemur, we all know the world does live up to your 19th-century racialists fantasies and IQ fetishism.

  50. IQ fetishism? I’ll bet that’s rare here.

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