That’s because financial interests and their crony politicians have no interest at all in traditional jobs programs that could put millions of young people to work. Instead, they are doing all they can to bring austerity policies to America. The less government spends on public services and safety net programs, the more money it has to support Wall Street. As government services are cut, state and local governments must turn even more to Wall Street in order to finance infrastructure projects (where the total cost including interest payments is usually several times the initial costs of construction).
Wall Street’s super-profits can only continue if public and consumer funds are transferred to high finance via interest payments on loans. So public jobs programs are out of the question, and both parties have been “convinced” (with campaign contributions) that we can’t afford them.
So that leaves us with one and only one jobs program—incarceration—which is also a growth opportunity for Wall Street. As public revenues falter, pressure will mount to privatize more and more correctional facilities and law enforcement functions, opening up lucrative opportunities for more privatization and more Wall Street loans to make it happen.
So by all means, let’s legalize drugs, get rid of mandatory sentencing and prohibit “stop and frisk.” But until we tackle financialization and its destruction of neighborhoods and jobs, we will channel another generation into the underground economy—and into jail.
These four graphs tell the tale visually:
1. The soaring American prison population since 1920:
2. Where the money is going: financial sector vs. non-financial sector yearly compensation:
3. The total collapse of manufacturing jobs in America since 1960:
5. The staggering rise of household debt — home mortgages and credit debt:
Les Leopold is the director of the Labor Institute in New York. His latest book is How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour: Why Hedge Funds Get Away with Siphoning Off America’s Wealth (Wiley 2013).