The bankruptcy reform bill that President Bush just signed into law will do more
than discipline those who live riotously on loans without paying them back in
full. Think for a moment about new prisons to house the indebted. This trend will
expand investment opportunities. Surely, Wall Street is salivating at the thought
of housing incarcerated debtors. Bonds, some of them tax-exempt, will need to
be issued to fund such construction projects, with many fees to be paid from the
public purse. Some of this cash will get invested in Congress. Honest graft. Today,
profits and punishment are the mother's milk of American politics.
In the 2005 slow/no jobs "recovery," debtor's prisons will expand
payrolls. Many construction estimators, laborers and superintendents will be
needed to build these facilities. Lower-paid and more numerous service workers
will be hired to staff them. Behold this flavor of "economic development"
that creates growth with employment. Where are you when we need you most, Mr.
Dickens? Mr. Hogarth?
We know that the American people believe in work and wages. Some are such believers
in this dynamic duo that they have multiple jobs. There are about 7.6 million
of these Americans now. You may be one of them. I was and could be again depending
on what the future holds, financially speaking.
Yes, even in California, home to 36 million people. Courageously, state leaders
from both parties and their business brethren have contributed to the growth
of the national prison-industrial complex. But there's still room for more building
in the Golden State. Debtors, beware.
Which brings me to a special shout-out to one of California's heavy-weight
political groups that will surely back getting tough on debtors by locking them
up. I refer you to the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, a
labor union whose time has come in more ways than one. The CCPOA's legendary
influence-peddling in the Capitol helped to fuel the state's prison-building
boom, itself sparked by the War on Drugs, the sustained campaign to lock up
the black and brown population.
Prisons for debtors won't just increase the U.S. inmate population of 2.1 million
mostly nonwhite folks held in jails and prisons about a year ago. Incarcerating
bankrupt working people, half of whom have gone bust from being unable to pay
for corporate health care according to a recent academic study, will lower the
jobless rate. What could be better than that, I ask you? Here's the thing: these
debtors will be uncounted in the Labor Department jobs reports, thus invisible
as prisoners/surplus workers are in official-speak. Wall Street will cheer as
more of the unemployed are pencil-whipped from sight on government spreadsheets.
Cut to politicians with sturdy shovels and simian grins as they break ground
on new prisons for debtors. Later, they boast before media cameras about how
this "economic development" will make us safe, add jobs and fuel growth.
Such a penal building boom could go on for quite some time, given the record
debt levels of U.S. households, Main Street's weakness and Wall Street's clout.
Seth Sandronsky, a member of Sacramento Area Peace Action and a co-editor of
Because People Matter, Sacramento's progressive paper. He can be reached at: