Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

A Modest Proposal: Job Creation through Incarceration

with one comment

by Nemo

For the past few days, thousands of Georgia prisoners have been striking against their poor working conditions. The strikers—by demanding actual wages and fair working conditions—risk undermining one of the America’s few areas of global economic competitiveness. Ever buy packaged Starbucks coffee? Ever buy a mouse from Microsoft? Ever shopped at Wal-Mart? Chances are you have benefited from a quality product made in the USA—by prisoners. Prison labor represents one of the few ways that American companies can compete with the low wages offered in the developing world. Prison authorities must break the Georgia prison strike—the fate of the American worker might depend on it.

Although Georgia–unlike dozens of other states–has barred the age old right for prisoners to work without pay for private companies, it has managed to cutback on many costly state and municipal jobs by making prisoners do them instead. With their irresponsible protests, the strikers risk creating better working conditions at prisons more generally.

This is especially the case since Georgia has been so innovative in making prisons economically productive. It spends less on prisoner upkeep than nearly anywhere else does in the country. As one journalist has observed “Prisoners are confined in overcrowded cells, with very little heat in the winter months and sweltering heat in the summer.”

Georgia has also cut back on wasteful government spending by denying prisoners access to any educational opportunities beyond the General Equivalency Diploma. After all, if prisoners had access to education, it might increase the chances that they would never return to jail, and thus deny the state its right to their unpaid labor. With nearly 1 in 13 of Georgia’s citizens either in prison, probation, or on parole, these huge labor reserves provide a great way to reign in runaway government spending.

Snake River Correctional Institution Call Center, Oregon. Ensuring that those telemarketing calls you receive during dinner are "made in the USA."

Georgia’s prison employment has been a particular boon to the state’s black community. While comprising 30% of the state’s population, African Americans make up 63% of the state’s prisoners. This provides the community with well-needed jobs. On this point, Georgia has established itself as a leader in a broader national trend.  As Atlantic blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates has observed, “Of the 2.3 million people in American jails, 806,000 are black males.  African-Americans–males and females–make up .6 percent of the entire world’s population, but African-American males–alone–make up 8 percent of the entire world’s prison population.” Thus, the prison strike threatens not only American financial competitiveness, but also employment opportunities for some of the nation’s most economically disadvantaged citizens.

The good news, however, is that America holds the world’s largest prison population. If prison officials make sure to shutdown this peaceful protest with maximum force—as they seem intent on doing—this important system of competitive labor management stands a high chance of remaining in place. In fact, if Georgia succeeds, President Obama might follow the state’s example in launching the “job creation” package that his liberal supporters have long been demanding. Indeed, with federal judges now ruling the health care mandate unconstitutional, Congress should consider re-opening debtors’ prisons for Americans who cannot afford to pay their health care bills. This might not solve the health care crisis, but it would go along way to reducing unemployment.


Written by Julian Nemeth

December 13, 2010 at 17:47

One Response

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  1. Sweeet, keep working

    example research

    November 2, 2011 at 17:40

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