I previously had the name of the town wrong in the title. Thanks to Jon for noticing.
I recently read a post by Dicky Neely
about how the Agriculture Commissioner of the State of Texas, Sid Miller, wants to reverse a policy of several years and sell junk food and soft drinks in the public schools because allowing these to be sold there would generate revenue. Why would anyone think it was a good idea to give children food that is blatantly bad for them?
And then I started to connect the dots.
Not too long ago, the Justice Department issued a report about Ferguson, MO and surrounding communities. I don't mean the one about the shooting, I mean the one about how police were arresting people, overwhelmingly poor Black people, on capricious charges, charging them with hundreds of dollars in fines, and charging them with hundreds more if they didn't pay on time. The police were found to be actively seeking revenue for the city via this means. (I first found out about this phenomenon before the report came out from a link sent to me by Token. It isn't only liberals who think this is an awful thing.)
This appears to be a new phenomenon. Not the persecution - that's been going on forever - but the police in a revenue-generating role. What's going on?
I've been writing about how money in the United States is concentrating into fewer and fewer hands since I started blogging. Taxation on the wealthy, both individuals and corporations, has not kept up with this trend; if anything, over time it's gone in the opposite direction. We have seen opposition to increasing taxes at all on the wealthy so virulent that those in Congress in opposition were prepared to throw the United States Government into default rather than allow any increases at all. This has been aggravated by a relatively recent major anti-government ethos in the United States, the concept that government itself is inherently inefficient, confiscatory, and generally tyrannical. Such an ethos means that stripping the public sector of funding sources becomes more and more legitimate. I could make the case that this assessment of government vs. the private sector is way off base and, in the past, I have, but for my purposes today we just need to notice that the phenomenon exists and that this phenomenon has a negative effect on government income.
So government's sources of revenue are shrinking, but the demands on government still exist. At a local level, governments are being squeezed by Federal and State governments reducing financial support (but not reducing requirements in a commeasurate way) and by local populations that are more anti-tax.
These governments still have to operate, but their normal sources of money are shrinking. Where can they turn to for money?
To those who can't stop them from taking it.
In other words, they are preying on the vulnerable, institutionally.
In Missouri, the vulnerable are the poor Black population, who don't have the resources and allies to fight the police from their own cities. When I say in the title that race is who but not why, I mean that race has a great deal to do with which population is targeted but very little to do with the fiscal necessity of targeting a population in the first place. Keep in mind that police officers didn't sign on to find themselves in the collections business and, as racist as many may be, chances are most are not targeting poor Black people for fun. We're looking at racism that is in some ways analogous to the racism inherent in "Last hired, first fired" - Black people are targeted, but everyone would rather that no firings were necessary.
In Texas, the vulnerable targeted by the Agriculture Commissioner are public schoolchildren.
The Justice Department will raise a stink, there will presumably be a lot of hand-wringing, fines, and firings, and maybe even some prosecutions, but the cause won't go away nationally, so the phenomenon won't, either. In that respect, it will work a whole lot like illegal immigration has. The big reason we've seen so much illegal immigration is that there have been a lot of jobs in the United States for illegal immigrants. We can put up all the fences we want, but if the incentives exist, people are just going to react to them in more ingenious ways. For political reasons, we have found it far easier to go after immigrants than to go after employers who are, after all, wealthier, politically influential, and seem a whole lot more like us. But we tried to have our cake and eat it, allowing a population of employers to benefit from hiring illegal immigrants while complaining about the fact that they did.
Coming down on the Fergusons of America will be about as effective as coming down on illegal immigrants, for essentially the same reasons. Trying to keep the Fergusons from racist solutions is all well and good but it doesn't address the problem that those racist solutions address.
Maybe we'll get lucky in the next election. All the visible likely Democratic candidates talk about inequitable taxation including, at this point, Hillary, in ways that the current President by and large has not. I certainly hope so.
The alternative is that we're going to see a lot more institutional racism as the majority of Americans fight harder and harder over the fewer and fewer crumbs left us in an economy that grows without us.
Today, my wife sent me a very interesting link:
from a site called Estately that did research into what each state in the Union has more than any other, per capita. Some of these can be rather arcane. North Carolina leads the nation in per capita snake bites. Maryland leads the nation in Democrats and millionaires.
Massachusetts leads the nation in people who identify as liberals and
People with health insurance
Primary care physicians
Mississippi leads the nation in people who identify as conservatives and
Access to high speed internet (the one good thing)
High blood pressure
People who can't afford food
Residents on food stamps
Be very careful about what you assume about the efficiency of conservative policies