Category: job creation

Health Care, Jobs and Death Threats

By Alan Bean

When I watch the government-shutdown-saga unfolding in slow-motion, I can’t get Father Gregory Boyle out of my mind.

Why are so many people so opposed to the Affordable Care Act that they are willing to resort to a weird kind of legislative terrorism?  What is it about this unwieldy blend of free market capitalism and social democracy that is so offensive?  Sure, Obamacare is a compromise stacked on a compromise; a sort of best-deal-we-could-get phenomenon that leaves no one elated.  But that isn’t why the program has stirred so much primal emotion.

We are dealing with two fundamentally different ways of responding to poor people and their needs.

And that’s why Father Boyle is on my mind.

I hadn’t heard of Boyle until I heard him speak a couple of weeks ago in New Orleans.  Now I find that his book, Tattoos on the Heart is the assigned reading for the JustFaith class I am teaching.

“In 1992 Homeboy Bakery is launched,” Boyle tells us, “but seven years later, in October of 1999, it burns to the ground.”

Homeboy Bakery was created with some white-guilt donation money, to create work for Latino gang-bangers in Los Angeles.  When the building went up in flames, Boyle initially suspected arson.

“When I say this, people often presume I mean that gang members did it.  I never thought that.  Homeboy Bakery stood as a symbol of hope to every gang member in the county.  That they would destroy this place of second chances didn’t make sense.”

It’s the next remark that comes to mind when I think of the train wreck in Washington: (more…)

Jobs, housing and public safety

By Alan Bean

America’s punitive consensus is counter-productive.  We don’t want to be victimized by ex-offenders, so we exclude them from the job market and bar access to low-income housing.  Left without viable options, they re-offend.  Maybe they write a hot check, or they resort to nickel-and-dime drug dealing, or they break into the neighbor’s home and haul the loot to the nearest pawn shop.  Policies designed to lower exposure to ex-offenders, breed criminal behavior.  Street crime rises, recidivism rates soar, and incarceration rates are stuck in the stratosphere.

Mitch Mitchell, a crime reporter with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, does a terrific job of documenting the plight of the ex-offender.  For decades, politicians have been competing to see who can be toughest on crime; gradually, Mitchell’s article, suggests, they are beginning to grapple with the consequences of their punitive policies.  

Mitchell should be applauded for emphasizing the housing issue, a piece of the puzzle that is often overlooked.  Here’s the thesis paragraph: 

Finding housing and employment are crucial to an ex-offender’s successful reintegration into society, experts say. But after serving their time, many ex-offenders find that they cannot get a job without a home address and cannot find a place to live without the money to pay rent. So they may end up roaming the streets.

Ex-offenders in Texas often can’t find housing or work

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

By Mitch Mitchell

For a brief moment, Tim Baker considered that death might improve his situation.

“Suicide is natural for someone who is depressed,” Baker said. (more…)

Krugman calls for New Deal-style public works project

By Alan Bean

My thanks to Judge Ron Chapman for bringing this interview with economist Paul Krugman to my attention.  Krugman thinks Barack Obama will lose the election if he doesn’t get his economic message straight, but that’s not what interests me.  In his new book, “End This Depression Now”, Krugman calls for the creation of a New Deal era public works program designed to put able-bodied men and women back to work.  I have been advocating something similar for several years and, although the proposal doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in the current political environment, it is nice to hear a prominent intellectual agreeing with me.

Krugman: Obama May Lose Re-Election

There may not be much President Obama can do to improve the economy between now and the election, but telling a clear story about why it remains weak could mean the difference between victory and defeat this November. Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman fears the Obama team is getting that critical narrative wrong.

“They’ve tied themselves up in knots because they’ve bought into this notion that it would sound wrong to admit that they haven’t been able to do everything that they really should have done,” Krugman told TPM in an interview following the release of his new book, “End This Depression Now!” “It’s incredible — they can’t quite make up their minds on whether the theme is that Republicans are standing in the way of doing what has to be done, or things are really good and America’s back on track. The problem is that you can’t perceive both of those lines at the same time.”

Team Obama’s narrative — that the stimulative measures he took were precisely what the country needed, and as a result America is on the mend — is based on a gamble that the economy will be in a steady recovery come Election Day. But if outside factors diminish the outlook, it will leave voters with the impression that Obama’s approach itself was the problem, rather than the vigorous Republican resistance that forced him to scale back his ambitions.

“What they should be saying is, ‘We have the right ideas and we’re pursuing them as far as we can given the opposition from Republicans,’ which would be more or less the true narrative,” Krugman said. “They have decided that it sounds like weakness to say that we haven’t been doing everything that we should be doing. And so they have instead opted to always pretend that what they thought they were able to get is also exactly what they should have done. So they’ve never conceded that that first stimulus was too small, or that there really should have been a second round of stimulus. And that means that if things go badly, they end up owning it. They can’t say, ‘Don’t blame us, blame the do-nothing Congress.’”

In his book, which hit shelves May 1, Krugman laments the “shadow of economic catastrophe” we live in, and the opportunity cost of huge stockpiles of underutilized human and physical capital. The government should put that to work, Krugman says, first by reversing the state layoffs of teachers, firefighters and other employees, and then ideally with a New Deal-style public works push to rebuild American infrastructure by putting the unemployed to work. But even though GOP opposition makes that all but impossible, Krugman believes it’s a mistake for Obama not to go the extra mile and at least tell voters what more he would do if only he could.

“There is a political danger to Obama, which is that [Mitt] Romney can go around saying, ‘The economy is still lousy,’ which is true,” Krugman said. “And the fact that Obama has never made a really clear case for his own economic leadership hurts. Now, I still think Obama will probably win, because there are other issues, but they have created a trap for themselves on the economic policy front by allowing themselves to own a weak economy in a way that they shouldn’t, because a lot of the problem has been tortured opposition from the Republicans.”

The White House’s narrative developed amid strong political headwinds. Pressure not only from Republicans but many Democrats and even administration officials, along with a broad establishment consensus, compelled Obama to pivot to deficit-reduction, after the Democrats’ 2010 congressional losses and in the face of an exploding national debt.

When the ensuing negotiations with Republicans collapsed and nearly took the U.S. economy with it, Obama turned to his current narrative. Krugman worries that the story’s not strong enough, and there’s still some chance that the economic recovery could slip and toss the election to the GOP.

“We have a slowly developing cycle of an improving economy and improving household balance sheets that lead you on the road to recovery,” Krugman said. “But obviously a lot can go wrong if there’s some kind of major setback — problems in Europe could still hurt the United States, or a spike in oil prices as a result of what’s happening in the Middle East. … We could have morning in America still. But probably not in 2012. So I don’t think there’s going to be a strong enough recovery to make it easy for [Obama].”

Are drill sergeants an improvement on prisons?

By Alan Bean

As a group, criminals are deeply alienated from mainstream society.  They are more likely to have mental health issues, to be drug addicted, to be high school dropouts and to have severe learning disabilities than the average person.  Moreover, as David Kennedy argues in Don’t Shooteven when jobs programs are available “not many street guys come forward, not that many can stick with the social-service programs designed to help them, not many can make it even when they really try.  They’re heavily compromised in awful ways: They have appalling criminal records, street attitudes that are hard to shake, they’re shocky, they have terrible work habits.”

Are there exceptions?  Certainly.  Thousands of them.  But public policy is driven by the normal case, and that isn’t very encouraging.  On the other hand, prison normally makes things worse.  Prisons didn’t work as reformatories back in the day when reformation was a serious concern, and they are much worse now that we have decided to warehouse inmates.  When ex-offenders return to the free world, they are walled in by restrictions that would force the most capable and motivated person to throw in the towel.

What are the alternatives?  Some people need to be in prison.  They’re dangerous.  But what about the majority of inmates who aren’t violent?  Can’t we find a more creative response to street crime than prison and felon disenfranchisement? (more…)

A review of Charles Murray’s ‘Coming Apart’: do the poor suffer because they are bad or because they are dumb?

By Alan Bean

Charles Murray took so much flak for controversial The Bell Curve that he decided to write a book about white people rooted in much the same argument. 

Coming Apart, a book about the diverging fortunes of upper and lower class white Americans, begins where The Bell Curve ended.  The big factor driving the growing gap between the educated and the uneducated, Murray suggests, is “cognitive homogamy”, the fact that individuals with similar cognitive ability are having children.

In the old world, Murray says, most people lived and died in rural communities and small towns.  The smartest males might have left home for a few years of college, but they generally returned to marry the prettiest (not necessarily the smartest) girl in town.  The result, kids of normal cognitive ability.  Wealth was distributed largely on the basis of inheritance, not ability and the kids at Harvard weren’t much smarter than the kids at a good state school.

Since the early 1960s, however, smart people have been marrying other smart people and having smart kids.  The sons and daughters of these blessed unions have increasingly clustered in segregated neighborhoods in which “everybody has a bachelor’s or graduate degree and works in high-prestige professions or management or is married to such a person.”  Among this new elite, wealth is distributed on the basis of merit, the elite colleges compete for the brightest and the best and lesser institutions make do with students who will never be ready for prime time. (more…)

When the prison boom goes bust

By Alan Bean

Scott Henson’s Grits for Breakfast blog offered a couple of terrific posts over the weekend.  “Private prisons and faux privatization” was inspired by a Forbes piece in which E. D. Kain asserts that running prisons is a government responsibility even if the work is subcontracted to a private prison company.

Thus any ‘privatization’ that occurs is simply the transfer of the provision of a government service (in this case, incarceration) to a private contractor. The contractor still operates with the full force of the law. In other words, it’s still government, just government-for-hire or for-profit government.

If there is any saving to the tax payer it is only because private prisons pay their workers less than state-run prisons.  Since this translates into less capable workers nothing of value is gained and much is lost.

“Texas prison  boom going bust” argues that county commissioners in small Texas towns can no longer build lock-ups far exceeding local needs on the assumption that a steadily growing prison population will fill the excess beds.

Jail-bed supply significantly exceeds demand statewide. With the exception of immigration detention, the bubble has burst. As has, hopefully, the “jail as profit center” myth among Texas county commissioners.

Prison privatization and the proliferation of the The Texas Gulag are two of the primary symptoms of America’s failed attempt to make crime pay.  Public officials have believed for years that everybody wins when we lock up more people this year than we did last year. Small towns get jobs; private prison companies slash wages and rake in profits, politicians get campaign contributions from the private prison industry and jobs in that sector when they leave politics.  Who could ask for anything more? (more…)