Book Review

Like A Financial Analysis of al-Qaeda in Iraq, this book is rather technical and highly academic in approach. Unsurprisingly, it is a rather boring read for the most part. Furthermore, the book isn’t particularly insightful.

There were some who apparently claimed, presumably around the time this book was written, that capitalism was responsible for causing and perpetuating apartheid and racial division. Williams seeks to correct this misconception, and does so quite adequately by pointing out how it was government legislation that created, enabled, and perpetuated apartheid and the corresponding racism.Williams’ arguments are not unique or original, in a sense, because racial biases can, and have been, easily corrected on the free market by the “inferior” race offering lower prices for their labor. The reason this didn’t happen in South Africa was because the government forbade competition, or elsewise severely hindered it.

Williams’ book, then, is useful primarily as an academic resource. It is not easy or enjoyable to read, part of which is due to the structure of the book. For me, it only reinforced my beliefs in the general equitability of the market. I imagine that the same will be true for those who are inclined to read this. My recommendation is to only read this book if you are doing research on South Africa or apartheid.

Is There a Correlation Between Crime and the Economy?

Crime rates should drop during good economic times and rise during bad ones. So very soon if you are walking the streets of New York late at night, you may be at risk of being mugged by gangs of investment bankers, driven to acts of desperate violence by the travails of the credit markets. This seems logical at first glance – people who lose their jobs may turn instead to burglary and theft to get what they want. But there is little evidence to suggest that crime rates drop during good economic times and rise during bad ones. Crime rates rose every year between 1955 and 1972, even as the economy surged, with only a brief, mild recession in the early 1960s. A bad economy doesn’t always bring more crime. Crime rates fell about one third between 1934 and 1938 while the nation was struggling to emerge from the Great Depression and weathering another severe economic downturn in 1937 and 1938.

Declining wages for poor young males drew them to crime as crack ravaged inner cities during the economic boom of the late 1980s. Low wages and the lure of crack profits thus discouraged young men from finding honest work. Economists and criminologists who can refer to data from all 50 U.S. states to help them understand what is going on have found little indication of a strong link between economic growth and crime. They instead credit some of the sharp fall in crime in the U.S. in the 1990s to larger police forces and harsher prison sentences. More stringent laws and larger government expenditures have also played an important role in the fall in the crime rate.

The truth is that broad figures on crime conceal large differences in specific crimes, each with its own particular explanation. Crimes, broadly speaking, have been falling for a decade. Car thefts are down because cars are harder to steal. Modern televisions and other home electronic equipments tend to be either too large to steal or too cheap to bother with.

That should take the focus away from crime. The economic downturn is threatening an increase in crime, illegal immigration, and extremism, putting further strain on tight police budgets. Illegal working is forecast to increase as migrants’ opportunities for legal employment decline and businesses seek to save costs.

Economic downturn also risks increasing the appeal of far right extremism and racism. Experiencing racism can be one of the factors that can lead to people becoming terrorists.

Local police resources could come under increasing pressure. The ever increasing gas prices might leave the police forces facing financial pressures.

So if the war against crime is to be won, then more stringent laws and increased federal, state, and local spending on law enforcement are needed. In other words, crime declines not because the economy is booming but because the government passes stringent laws and spends money – larger prisons, more police, and tougher punishments.

Neo-Nazism in Europe

Extremist political groups and parties often flourish in regions of economic deprivation, where populations feel alienated from the establishment, disillusioned by mainstream politics and seek convenient scapegoats for their circumstances. This may mean that one outcome of the current global economic downturn and its exacerbating impact on already disadvantaged areas may be a expansion of the neo-Nazism which is already taking a grip in some rural areas of Eastern Germany and has been making its presence felt in other European countries.

In Germany, the spread of neo-Nazism especially in the former Communist-controlled rural eastern provinces has been a growing problem over the past decade. Although Nazi organizations have been officially banned in Germany since the end of World War II, poor clarity and enforcement of the laws have allowed a large number of mainly small neo-Nazi groups to emerge – it was estimated in 2001 that these had a total membership of at least 50,000. Blatantly racist neo-Nazi activity came to public attention as a result of media coverage of violent racist attacks as well as high-profile campaigns such as the 2001 Berlin demonstration against the opening of a Crimes of the Wehrmacht exhibition, which resulted in violent clashes between neo-Nazi demonstrators and left-wing anti-Nazi opponents. Between 1999 and 2000 the number of racist and other far right crimes rose by 59% to 16,000 in Germany, with violent crime accounting for more than 1,000 cases, including more than 30 brutal murders of foreigners. Neo Nazi racism and xenophobia was partly fuelled in the late 1990s, as in other parts of Europe, by the influx of large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers. Members of these groups became the most common targets of neo-Nazi racial violence, purportedly because they were stealing jobs from German nationals, committing crime and ruining traditional German communities.

Mainstream Racism

Although many German neo-Nazi groups are small and operate outside the formal political system, a more sinister force is reportedly driving the escalation of far right extremism through the use of official political channels and by strong marketing of nationalism to disaffected German youth. The far right National Democratic Party (NDP), which blatantly promotes its own fashion brands and nationalistic pop music to young people, has been making significant gains in mainstream politics at state level in rural eastern Germany in recent years. The party secured 9.2% of votes in Saxony in 2004 and nearly 7.3% in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in 2006, giving it a number of seats at state parliament level. It has recently been forecast to take control of a significant number of town councils in local elections to be held in 2009, which would extend its stronghold over a vast area of eastern Germany from the Baltic Sea coast to its southern borders. Already, anti-racists have been warning racial minorities to avoid this area, where the NDP would like to establish “freed zones” of white Germany supremacy, a sentiment which is spookily reminiscent of the anti-Semitism of 1930s Germany. In May 2008, the German Government responded to the resurgence of neo-Nazi activity in eastern provinces by banning two explicitly neo-Nazi groups, Collegium Humanum and the Association for the Rehabilitation of People Persecuted for Denying the Holocaust, yet the NDP continues to make political strides. Perhaps most alarming is its strong appeal to rural east-German youth: 28% of under-18s expressed support for the NDP in a recent survey in Saxon Switzerland, a region near the Czech border.

Germany is not the only European country which is witnessing a growth in neo-Nazi and far right political activity and racial violence. In Russia, a number of extreme Nationalist groups and parties have recently held rallies and demonstrations in Moscow and the Russian provinces, and there have been increasing numbers of reported violent attacks and murders of foreigners throughout the country. A 2007 report by a Human Rights group noted that in both France and Britain, anti-Semitic threats and acts had risen dramatically in the previous year. More generally, political parties on the far right, whose main agenda is preventing further immigration to their respective countries, have been making significant gains in a number of countries including Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Denmark. It remains to be seen whether such parties and the various neo-Nazi groups and organizations throughout the continent are able to capitalize on the economic difficulties now facing Europe.

References

Anonymous (2001). Europe: Charlemagne: Otto Schily puts the cuffs on Germany’s far right. The Economist 358, 8213, Mar 17, 2001.

Anonymous (2001). Europe: An untamed beast; Germany’s far right. The Economist 377, 8448, Oct 15, 2005.

Anonymous (2008). Russian human rights activist comments on rise of neo-Nazism
BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union. London: May 10, 2008.

Benoit, B. (2007). On the march – how Germany’s extreme right is making gains in the blighted east Europe: Patient fieldwork is enabling the National Democratic party to build a power base at local level in poor parts of the countryside. Financial Times, Jan 9, 2007.

Besser, J.D. (2007). Human rights groups recognize rise in European anti-Semitism
Jewish News, 61, 23, June 7, 2007.

Kulish, N. (2008). Germany: 2 Groups Banned For Neo-Nazism. New York Times. Late Edition (East Coast). New York, N.Y.: May 8, 2008.

Paterson, T. (2001). (December 2, 2001). Berlin police use tear gas to quell anti-Nazi protest. Telegraph.co.uk, December 2, 2001.

Scapegoating: The Last American Growth Industry

Recently I read a disturbing article by a young South Carolina mother entitled “A Letter to Illegal Mexican Walmart Shoppers.” (Editor’s note: the article’s original URL no longer exists. Click here to read it from Google’s cached pages.) The gist of the letter is that, in this woman’s opinion, Mexican Walmart shoppers are rude, and most of the men want her bodies. And since they are single-handedly ruining America by taking our jobs, she feels they could at least be polite and stop leering at her.

What I find both refreshing and maddening about this letter is its open and unapologetic racism combined with a total lack of appreciation for the irony of the author’s position. Most Americans are a little more guarded in expressing their racism these days, even when they share the same views. But in South Carolina it is apparently open season on Mexican immigrants, and they darn well better keep their hands off our white women if they want to keep shopping at Walmart!

Wow.

It’s refreshing to get this blind hatred out into the light where we can at least see it, and I thank the author for doing that. Usually this stuff breeds in the dark. If everyone who thought these things said them out loud right away, we could then discuss them on the spot and dispel a lot of ignorance. Discussion would be a good thing. Sadly, we rarely get the chance to take it that far.

The irony of course is that no one promotes cheap labor and abusive labor prices as ruthlessly and effectively as Walmart. Those low, low prices come at the cost of American jobs, and you don’t have to be an economist to see that. The $19.95 CD player you picked up on sale under the ubiquitous smiley face was almost certainly made by Chinese workers who earn less than the cost of the item itself for an entire week’s work. Recently Walmart lost a lawsuit brought against it by its own employees for not providing them with legally required work breaks and for forcing them to work off the clock on pain of losing their jobs.

So clearly, the easier and more rational way to avoid being annoyed by Mexican immigrants at Walmart is to stop shopping at Walmart, but the problem is that many Americans have come to believe it is their God-given right to get the cheapest prices available on earth and damn the consequences. They shouldn’t have to think when they shop. They should just be able to consume at the pace they have grown accustomed to, regardless of economic conditions. That’s what we are after all; we’re consumers, right? We have to be able to consume things, and cheaply. It’s the American way.

Corporate responsibility is not a concept many American consumers understand or want to understand. And yet, somebody has to be blamed for the inconveniences in their personal lives. Mexican immigrants as a group do fit the bill. They don’t or won’t speak English, so it’s easy to blame them. (No back talk, except from people like me).

This is how scapegoats are born, and our country can’t keep functioning the way it is now without them. That’s what I want to focus on here:

Our country can’t keep functioning this way without scapegoats.

I want to focus on this because it has come to the attention of even oblivious Walmart shoppers that our country currently isn’t functioning very well. I think it’s not an exaggeration to say that our country has, in fact, become dysfunctional. In order to stay dysfunctional, we have to manufacture targets of blame for the obvious and growing problems we face: We need scapegoats. Without scapegoats, we’d have to look at the real, complex causes of our current problems, and if we do that, everything will change. Scapegoats help us to maintain the status quo, no matter how much the status quo stinks.

Like the saying goes, better the devil you know.

So, here for your shopping pleasure is a short list of some of the hottest and cheapest scapegoats around right now. Grab one while you still can! (I’m reasonably certain all of them can be found at Walmart.)

Mexican immigrants. They’re taking our jobs and ruining our country. Great jobs Americans would love to do like picking tobacco or working in slaughterhouses or roofing suburban homes in the dead heat of summer at sub-minimum wage. Let’s get serious for a minute here: Jobs that pay wages Americans can actually live on are not being snapped up by illegal immigrants. Those good jobs are going overseas to China and India. So blame your bad luck on Mexicans if you want to, while you can. Soon, however, there won’t be any good jobs for people born here, at which point you will have to be a little nicer if you want to get hired to pick tomatoes with these folks.

Married gays. It’s not the fact that the American auto industry is DOA or that the price of gasoline is on its way to Mars or that we are dumping enormous sums of money into a war we can’t win that is hurting our country’s economy right now; it’s those pesky homosexuals, always out in public doing pesky gay things like picking out drapes and going to the gym. Now they want to get married. No wonder we are doomed. God will now smite us with forest fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, and gay divorce lawyers. Hard to believe that the last election was largely won by simply invoking the power of homophobia, but it was. All of you people who voted for George Bush just so Adam and Steve wouldn’t get a marriage license, how is that working out for you now? (And by the way, Adam and Steve? Yeah, you two, out in California? Congratulations! High five!)

Stupid poor people. As you probably point out constantly to everyone you know, America is crawling with people who are way stupider than you. If those people sign papers with predatory lenders that take all their money and then repo their homes, it’s their own damn fault. Doesn’t matter if they are in their 90s and live on an $800 a month Social Security check, they should have planned better when they were younger. Now they are bringing down the whole country with their stupid stupidity by way of too many foreclosures. Alleged fraud and book-cooking at Fannie Mae or Countrywide is beside the point. Those nice, ambitious young brokers who invented ways to package and trade mortgage loans as securities, ways that completely erased who held the bad debts? Those nice boys were just trying help your stock portfolio increase in value.

We should never blame Wall Street or the finance industry for their own disasters because the market is self-regulating. Ronald Reagan said so and ever since then this is the official prayer of all rich people. High rolling high finance=good. Stupid poor people=bad. Always remember that every advantage in your own life was won solely through your own efforts with no help from anyone, ever, and every disadvantage of poverty is due to the stupidity and laziness of poor people. Keep thinking that way, and pay no attention to that self-portrait hanging in your den that for some reason is aging rapidly and taking on the visage of a depraved, self-indulgent monster. Oh yes, and hang onto your money. Tight. It’s yours, all yours.

Negroes. Come on, can’t you do any better than that? If you are still holding onto this one, you are probably over 80 and aren’t reading this anyway, and you may not have even noticed that a black guy is currently running for president. Speaking of that guy, lots of working class people, especially working class white guys, are uncomfortable with this candidate’s inexperience at this critical time in our nation’s history. It’s nothing to do with his race at all; it’s his inexperience. Uh-huh. Where was all your concern when George Herbert Walker Bush’s prodigal son wanted to be President? You know which son I mean: the same son that ran every thing he ever touched right into the ground, including oil companies gifted to him by Pappy’s friends, companies that were practically fool-proof money makers, and the entire state of Texas. Where was all your concern back then? Honestly, you guys aren’t fooling anybody.

That’s my short list. I know it could be longer but I have to end this rant somewhere.

The truth is, we have serious problems that will take a degree of unity to solve that we haven’t seen in this country in my entire lifetime. We just can’t afford to tear at each other when we are losing our place as a world power and endangering the whole planet with our waste and pollution. We have to look at the problems themselves and start producing products and services, not scapegoats.

Once upon a time, long ago and for a brief but shining period, we were more than consumers. We were merchants, craftsmen, workers, artists, and builders.

Wouldn’t it be great to get back to that time before it’s too late?