by Joe La SacSunday, February 1st, 2009
A friend of mine is taking a course on propaganda at The Evergreen State College, Tacoma campus. Students created propaganda posters for whatever cause or idea they wanted to for one of the projects. The posters are displayed in the hallway outside the classroom for other students and faculty to see.
I recently went to the Evergreen Tacoma campus for a community group meeting, Food Not Bombs. Afterward I perused the different posters students designed and drafted. Some of them are ironic, some are artsy, all of them are creative. I think the creativity which Evergreen campuses inspire students to develop is one of the school’s greatest successes. One of the posters, a very simply one, I wanted to blog on here because it made me laugh.
Look at the kid picking his nose!
The Evergreen State College, however, is in a perilous situation since Washington State began a massive budget cut that dipped severely into education funds. Evergreen, a public institution, will lose $3.5 billion in public school funding. Tacoma public schools are supposed to be hit harder than other cities in the state. Higher education will experience large budget cuts too. The administration at Evergreen has decided how it will spend its new budget, and the planners decided to eliminate the following programs, according to a budget leak which was emailed and sent to Evergreen students.
Among the programs are: the entire Evergreen Tacoma campus (which is a valuable resource to the mainly poor, inner-city African American community in Tacoma), the Olympia Labor Center (which is a center for unionization and labor justice in Olympia), some or all of the Reservation-Based Programs (which work with the indigenous populations), the NW Indian Research Center, The Longhouse (another native tribe project), and the Center for Community-Based Learning and Action. There is a larger list floating around.
There is no doubt in my mind that this school has been an incredible and valuable resource for justice movements and community-building, capacity-building, not to mention a school that provides resources and space for labor, native tribes and poor communities. Having visited the school plenty of times and attended functions, I say Evergreen is more broadly a place where students set their minds free, vigorously pursue their passions and interests, and take courses that always spark my interest. And if you want to pick your nose, it’s okay because social norms were meant to be deconstructed. To see these resources disappear would hurt the communities already most affected by financial imbalances.
To see Evergreen aiming the brunt of its budget cut at the poor and excluded would only serve to make matters worse. These groups obviously rank very low in the TESC administration’s priorities, which does not come as a surprise since the staff have increasingly adopted a more “business model” approach to education matters in recent years. Instead of hiring educators with degrees in political science or education, Evergreen increasingly hires business graduates to take care of things.
The Evergreen State College should take the advice of the propaganda poster, stop cutting community programs which are viewed as unnecessary accessories, and embrace real change: “Sustain your future – Invest in a child”. Build up the communities which will be crushed by the wobbly situation, instead of sweeping the rug out from under them.
by Joe La SacMonday, January 26th, 2009
Author of “The Tyranny of Oil”, Antonia Juhasz, spoke at King’s Books in Tacoma not too long ago. I used to live right behind the bookstore, so when she came I recorded the talk, and spiced it up with archived footage and video from oil industry commercials and propaganda. At any rate, I hope you like this 26-minute piece.
by Joe La SacWednesday, January 14th, 2009
There is one short scene that I really like in Videodrome (1983). In David Cronenberg’s alternate timeline universe there is a Catholic style inner-city “mission” called the Cathode Ray Mission. Its purpose is to help what looks like homeless people get reintegrated into normal, everyday working life. But you soon learn that the people go to the mission are not really without homes so much as without televisions. What possible reason could there be for that? In order to patch the “derelicts” back into the world of normalization, they must be treated by exposure to television. So they come to Cathode Ray for their TV “fix”.
“You look like them, like one of father’s derelicts,” says Bianca O’blivion, the mission operator who is also the daughter of Videodrome’s first victim.
“I think it’s a style. It’s coming back,” says Max Wren, the main character.
“In that case, Mr. Wren, it’s not a style. It’s a disease forced upon them from lack of access to the Cathode Ray tube.”
Wren – “You think a few doses of TV will help them?”
Bianca – “Watching TV will help patch them back into the world’s mixing board.”
“The world’s mixing board” – what is that? A gigantic network of information and signals which inform the teeming masses with socially acceptable discourse. Getting patched back in is like reading up on the day’s news in order to have everyday conversation with other people: what products are being consumed, what TV shows people are talking about, what political ideas should you be having, etc. The parallel today is like checking Facebook or Myspace in order to feel more connected to the drifting social discourse that takes place beyond real physical events. You can come back to the “real world” having felt as if you are completely informed, less naive about various aspects of social life.
But what is the real world? The “world’s mixing board” is an arena that is more and more “realistic” everyday, and the video seers are saying that video reality is more real to them than reality in the flesh.
This Cathode Ray scene in the film is short, but provides a lot of background that helps you understand the hypothetical world that people live in, and David Cronenberg’s social commentary. You notice that each derelict person in the mission is sitting alone in front of a television set, completely alienated from the rest of the world, detached from the other people who share the same class consciousness as they do. As an alienated force, they absorb a new form of ‘classless’ consciousness that imports the values and emotions they must have to survive in a rigorous environment. In Marx’s term, an opiate of the masses.
Here’s the other part. Massive doses of Videodrome’s signal – a mind-altering television show that broadcasts unedited torture, and still being tested in a Pittsburgh laboratory – causes a tumor in the brain that brings about hallucinations when it receives the Videodrome signal. (This is the farfetched version of how the “society of the spectacle” works, but it isn’t too far off.) These surreal hallucinations can be recorded, broadcast, and also controlled. It’s the ultimate brainwashing machine.
Since the creators of Videodrome – a government-contractor – have ‘benevolent’ intentions they dreamed that Videodrome would supposedly bring about an ideal social situation for a new world order. And for the first time ever it is possible to exert political and social power over the proletariat without having to convince them by traditional means. The “disease” that is forced upon the proletariat by lack of access to television is their class consciousness, and the television helps them consume imaginary commodities is the cure, which will give them false consciousness. In the mission Bianca remarks that Wren is beginning to “look like them.” He is beginning to look more proletariat.
The ability to exert the power is also, what I find interesting, a philanthropic mission with just one simple idea. Just as 19th Century philanthropist and philosopher Jeremy Bentham, convinced that his “simple idea in architecture”, a panopticon, could solve the most vexing problems of Enlightenment social thought, so a Videodrome device could solve the most vexing problems of class struggle. By harmoniously coordinating self-interest with social duty in a capitalist system, Videodrome enforces as painlessly as possible a sense of social cohesion.
Video hallucination, and because the film has mild Cold War undertones, is the way to control the public mind, directing it away from the dangers of communism. “The battle for the mind of North America,” says Brian O’blivion, a video prophet, “will be fought in the video arena.” The company called Spectacular Optical – where Videodrome originates – also makes missile-guidance systems for NATO and products for use in the Third World. The interconnected interest between war with Soviet Russia, Third World dependence, and the need for greater public control in the liberal regimes is not something Cronenberg tries to disguise.
But Cronenberg’s more obvious intention was to suggest something more along the lines of Baudrillard’s simulacra. The transition of a society from industrialism to “hyperreality”, marks a decisive turning point. Imagine, says Baudrillard, that a gigantic empire created a map of its own territory, and that map was so detailed that it was as big as the territory itself. When the empire eventually declined and disappeared, all that is left is the map. Baudrillard suggests that in the hyperreal transition, people merely live in the map. Beyond this horizon, value takes on a new meaning. In Baudrillard’s object/value system – the sign value of an object can be considered more real than its functional, exchange, or use value. The real object, even if erased, is not as important as the sign.
Videodrome was designed to create this turning point in human history, to push us into the world of signs. The brain tumors caused by Videodrome would create a new outgrowth, a new evolutionary step in human history. Instead of being so enamored with reality in the flesh, humans will elevate their consciousness to a higher plane, the video arena. In Baudrillard’s term, hyperrreality.
“Your reality is already half video hallucination,” says Brian O’blivion in a video dispatch to Max Wren. “If you’re not careful it will become total hallucination. You’ll have to learn to live in a very strange new world.”
This advice is not heeded. “Long live the new flesh!” is a slogan Max Wren starts saying once he is totally brainwashed by Videodrome. He is convinced, like others before him, that “public life on television” is more real than “private life in the flesh,” in Bianca’s words.
What I find the most creative on behalf of Cronenberg’s vision was to use the Cathode Ray Mission as a way to explain the turning point from industrial to hyperreal forms of society. The fact that the derelicts in Videodrome’s world are in need of objects that have greater sign value than functional values describes with great surrealism the kind of warped and twisted sort of place a late capitalist society is. Objects in the system of signs are fetishized to such an extent that they have more value than anything else.
by Joe La SacMonday, January 12th, 2009
Robert Fisk, British correspondent for the UK newspaper The Independent and credited by the phrase ‘fisking‘, has in his new book The Age of the Warrior brought attention to two separate and very distinct US Armed Forces creeds. The first was originally created after the My Lai massacre in Vietnam to encourage ‘professional’ conduct in war. The original was scrapped in 2003 and replaced with what the military calls The Warrior Ethos to encourage a completely abject obedience to the mission of the armed forces. The original text can be found in the older versions of the Soldier’s Handbook and also this Field Artillery NCO Study Guide.
I am an American soldier. I am a member of the United States Army – a protector of the greatest nation on earth. Because I am proud of the uniform I wear, I will always act in ways creditable to the military service and the nation that it is sworn to guard. I am proud of my own organization. I will do all I can to make it the finest unit of the Army. I will be loyal to those under whom I serve. I will do my full part to carry out orders and instructions given me or my unit. As a soldier I realize that I am a member of a time-honored Profession, that I am doing my share to keep alive the principles of freedom for which my country stands. No matter what situation I am in, I will never do anything for pleasure, profit or personal safety, which will disgrace my uniform, my unit or my country. I will use every means I have, even beyond the line of duty, to restrain my Army comrades from actions, disgraceful to themselves and the uniform. I am proud of my country and it’s flag. I will try to make the people of this nation proud of the service I represent for I am an American soldier.
This is the version that Donald Rumsfeld created to be the new ‘Warrior Ethos‘, via The Independent:
I am an American soldier. I am a warrior and a member of a team. I serve the people of the Unites States and live the Army values. I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade. I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills. I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself. I am an expert and I am a professional. I stand ready to deploy, engage and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat. I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life. I am an American soldier.
The differences are obvious. The second version says nothing about disgraceful conduct. It says nothing about ethical standards. It emphasizes total obedience to the military chain of command. It lent itself to Abu Ghraib, to Guantanamo, and Bagram. It lent itself to war crimes.
The older version has problems too, and the same problems are in the second version. In the My Lai version, for example, “greatest nation on earth” already shows signs of extreme nationalism. Both creeds reinforce subservience, domination, and unquestionable submission to hierarchy. Both appeal to professionalism, and easily give rise to the same problems that Hannah Arendt pointed out when it came to Nazi professionalism.
The second version certainly goes further than the first; Robert Fisk considers the first one acceptable, and the second one deplorable. But there is another creed that the Army has on hand, for civilians, called the Civilian Corps Creed. This creed is worse than the others in my opinion, because the Civilian creed extends “Army values” onto civilian populations, and encourages the same hierarchical obedience to non-warriors. Perhaps in the wake of 9/11, everyone became an “Army civilian” and a member of the “Army team”.
I am an Army Civilian – a member of the Army Team. I am dedicated to the Army, its Soldiers and Civilians. I will always support the mission. I provide stability and continuity during war and peace. I support and defend the Constitution of the United States and consider it an honor to serve the Nation and its Army. I live the Army values of Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Professional Courage. I am an Army Civilian. (Recorded speech – Robert Fisk in Seattle, September 2008.)
photo credit http://flickr.com/photos/jasoneppink/
by Joe La SacMonday, December 1st, 2008
Somalia is making headlines for all the wrong reasons. While international eyes scorn the recent hijackings of over 40 shipping vessels off Somalia’s coast and berate the perceived “lawlessness” of the pirates who hold them for millions of dollars ransom, Somalis themselves seem more concerned about the destruction of human life caused by corporations and blood money from Western governments.
Al Jazeera reported that the pirates accused European multi-national corporations of dumping toxic waste off the coast of Somalia. These wastes include radioactive uranium, lead, cadmium, and mercury. One pirate crew whom they apparently spoke to is demanding $8 million for a Ukranian ship and claims the money will go towards toxic clean-up. Other ships, like the Sirius Star – a tanker carrying 2 million barrels of Saudi crude oil – are being held for over $30 million ransom.
“The Somali coastline has been destroyed, and we believe this money is nothing compared to the devastation that we have seen on the seas.” – Somali Pirate
When the 2004 tsunami hit Indonesia, it washed up toxic materials onto the shores of Puntland, a semi-autonomous region of Somalia where some of the hijackers live, exposing decades of cheap and out-of-sight dumping that took place in the Horn of Africa since the 1980s. Puntland’s residents have now become sick with skin infections, abdominal bleeding, and strange bleeding at the mouth. With such an untidy brew of chemicals there, the symptoms Somalis are showing now may only be the beginning of a long and drawn-out health crisis. Animals are livestock have also become sick and died. Nick Nuttall, a United Nations Environmental Program spokesperson, reiterated the pirates’ point, adding that, “there is also industrial waste, and there are hospital wastes, chemical wastes – you name it.”
I would name this entire international story about “piracy” a farce. The real story behind the pirates is the slow death of Somali health and well-being and the betrayal of our aquatic environment. The pirates are therefore acting in a manner similar to Robin Hood and Little John, or at the very least like an anti-imperialist Coast Guard. Juxtapose this with the West’s perception of the pirates as unruly buccaneers, scalawags and jokers who are “possibly linked to al-Qaeda“, and the framing of this situation as another “counter-terrorism” story.
The last thing the world needs right now,” writes the Economist Magazine, “is disruption of one of its busiest shipping lanes and a spike in insurance premiums.” The last thing the world needs, on the contrary, is to gloss over its double-dealings with Africa. The world business community can continue to view the disruption as an “outrageous” act of opportunistic thievery, or it can view the disruption as the price they must pay for years of neglected externalities. The latest hijackings have raised the stakes for capitalism on the high seas, but it’s worth pointing out that the Sirius Star is carrying only about a quarter of the daily output of Saudi oil. Still, never once has the Economist mentioned why the hijackings occurred.
For years the blood money and weapons designed by the CIA to finance secular Somali clans empowered “the same Islamic groups it was intended to marginalize.” And because the American chain-of-command is so impervious to criticism, when a US State Department official, Michael Zorzick, criticized the CIA-backed warlordism in Somalia, he was transferred to Chad from his post in Mogadishu. According to a UN Security Council report, as recently as 2006 arms, military matériel and financial support continued to “flow like a river to these various actors.”
American, British, Ethiopian, and Eritrean forces, as well as private security contractors, have meanwhile been blasting Somali fishing villages to pieces in their search for bin Laden. The recent leak of the Al Qaeda Network Exord exposed United States forces which had been operating “frequently” in 15 to 20 countries without Congressional approval, and against ineffective UN rulings, since 2004. One of those 15 to 20 countries had been Somalia. The New York Times wrote that “members of a classified unit called Task Force 88 crossed repeatedly into Somalia to hunt senior members of al Qaeda.” Firing missiles into villages from remote locations, as the Times article states, American forces only “occasionally” dropped in to assess air strike results. We of course know nothing about the gruesome details of any covert US operation in Somalia.
We are living, once again, at a time when Somalia is making headlines. What is interesting in the present connection is that the mainstream media have reached the conclusion that the cause of Somalia’s problems is the persistence of “anarchy,” as if every armed conflict in Africa were an opportunity to exploit or blame the political philosophy of anarchism. Instead, these conflicts are opportunities for anarchists and anti-authoritarians to exploit the facade of “peace-keeping” imperialism in Africa and the effects of environmental racism.
But since they asked, anarchism certainly has something to say about the conflict, and the comments of anarchists are relevant. This is a quote from Derrick Jensen’s latest book, Endgame:
“Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.”
by Joe La SacTuesday, November 18th, 2008
Following the Prop 8 legislation that banned same-sex marriages in California, people from all fifty states turned out to march for equal rights this Saturday in their respective cities. Seattle and Olympia were both on the march. One of my friends, Melissa, went to Seattle and brought some pictures back for show-and-tell.
Me: Even thought Prop 8 was California’s bad deal, why were people marching for equal rights in Seattle?
Melissa: Although the majority of the states have motioned to define marriage as “a union between a man and a woman”, Prop 8 was unique in that it took away same-sex marriage rights that had already been granted by the California Constitution. Just because it happened in a different state doesn’t mean we can’t process a thought and take action.
Me: You snapped a photo of Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels speaking at the rally on Capitol Hill. What did he say and what does it mean that the Mayor, Senator Ed Murray, King County Executive Ron Sims, and several others in government positions are supporting the cause?
Melissa: Nickels denounced Prop 8 as a hateful measure and said it should have never made it onto the ballot. He also declared November 15th Marriage Equality Day in Seattle. We have support from politically influential people; it means a lot to have that kind of support, especially when the viewpoint you’re fighting from isn’t necessarily the popular one.
Me: How did you meet Fabulous K.J.?
Melissa: Fabulous K.J. and his two friend were the only other people I saw at City Hall that morning, the original meeting place. I didn’t get the memo about the rally being moved to Volunteer Park and obviously neither did they, but I suppose it was an organized venue change because it was pretty much just the four of us. We tripped around together for a bit, confused, and then split up. My friend Leo looked things up online and messaged me that the happenings were at Volunteer Park. I don’t think I would have made it if it weren’t for him. I forwarded the message to K.J. and we reunited during the march.
Me: Who is the saxophone guy in this picture?
Melissa: Oh, Kevin – he wasn’t associated with the Prop 8 happenings. I just recognized him as one of my brother’s classmates and decided to be oddly extroverted. He invited me to join his band. I guess that’s flattering.
Me: Who is the naked lady on the balcony?
Melissa: I wouldn’t have a clue, but everyone on the street loved her. I don’t think the guys in the next balcony over realized that the sudden surge of whoo hoo was due to naked-support, rather than the usual clothed-support, but, well, you know. We’ll take any support we can get, nude or otherwise.
Me: When you got to Westlake Center you were met with anti-anti-Prop 8 protesters. What was their deal?
Melissa: Oh, the typical burn-in-hellers. They were citing Bible verses and saying we should repent or else. I know the big “or else” thing is a common thread amongst Bible-affiliated religion, but I really don’t think there is any choice associated with being gay, lesbian, or otherwise.
I’ve heard about ex-gay programs… they’re really unhealthy; the American Psychiatric Association (APA) doesn’t approve at all. Doesn’t that mean anything to the people advising gays to repent?
I met a Christian woman on the bus ride home and we talked pretty much the whole time. She said if people want to get married they should get married, and we’ve got bigger things to spend our time on than fighting over that.
Me: Beautiful picture! Last question: the Washington State Supreme Court upheld in 2006 the definition of marriage as “a union between a man and a woman”, and in 2007 Governor Christine Gregoire passed the Domestic Partners Registry which explicitly bans same-sex couples from marriage. What’s it going to take to wine same-sex marriages in Washington State?
Melissa: What the exact logistics of getting same-sex marriage legal in Washington State are, I don’t know. I think the organization and the peacefulness of the event this past Saturday speaks volumes about our community. There were tables to write to legislators and such about how people in attendance disagreed with ban on same-sex marriage. Domestic partnerships and civil unions just aren’t enough.
Me: Thanks, Melissa!
by Joe La SacThursday, October 23rd, 2008
Violin instructor and alumna from the University of Puget Sound, Janet Utterback-Peck, teaches young violin students (ages 6 – 14) by recording them and posting their videos on a private YouTube account. She and her community of violin instructors have found that video-taping their students increases the students’ self-efficacy, and opens them to a wide range of violinists over the internet.
“I think the physical part – looking – and connecting – what physical motions make certain sounds is key,” she says. Janet also uses YouTube to learn tricks from the professionals in her own work as a violinist with the Tacoma and Northwest Symphony Orchestras.
Staci Elliott and I created a short documentary video through Instructional Technology at UPS, which among other things is the department that administers the BlackBoard content management system, tutorializes university software, and offers to students and educators regarding technological and pedagogical combinations. In the video I featured a documentary about Jascha Heifetz, which can be seen here, and a rendition of “Last Rose of Summer” by Hilary Hahn (which happens to be one of Janet’s favorites). That video can be seen separately here.
by Joe La SacWednesday, October 22nd, 2008
An old saying in economics: there is no “free lunch”. Last week it was Joseph Stiglitz point, speaking at Seattle U about his new book Three Trillion Dollar War, that there is no such thing as a “free war”.
I thought Stiglitz, whose Nobel Prize work is related to information asymmetry and market failure, would be out of his league when discussing the accounting costs of the Iraq War. But as he described it – it’s not very difficult to add up these costs, it just takes a bit of investigation.
Bad accounting procedures, attempts to deceive US citizens about the costs of the war, hidden costs in terms of health and opportunity costs, diminish the official costs of the Iraq War. The number, $3 trillion, is an enormous number. But it is still the conservative accounting estimate; Stiglitz claims the range of costs is somewhere between $3 and $5 trillion.
In 2003, Chief Economic Adviser Lawrence Lindsey said the Iraq War might cost, $100 to $200 billion dollars. He was rewarded by being fired. Secretary of Defense D. Rumsfeld said the War would cost $50 billion. This is the amount we actually spend every 3 to 4 months in the “official” Iraq War budget. But the up-front budgetary costs are much smaller than the hidden costs.
For example, war contractors must have disability insurance and death benefits by law. But the insurance premiums are not surprisingly so high that the Department of Labor pays for it out of taxes. It is not counted in the Iraq budget. And while taxes pay for the insurance premiums, a lot of the money has gone to AIG, the company which has recently gained notoriety from the financial crisis. Stiglitz says the company was essentially stealing tax-payer money to pay for disabilities and death benefits, but it included a cynical little clause stating that AIG would not pay for disabilities or deaths arising from “hostile action”. What do they think happens in the Iraq War, Stiglitz asks. The audience grumbled all around. Taxpayers pay these insurance premiums, in fact, twice, he said.
Cost like this that increase the real cost and decrease the budgetary cost are abundant. At this point, the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan are two of the four longest hot wars in US history.
- Vietnam War ……………… 8 years, 5 months
- Afghanistan ………………… 7 years, 1 month
- Revolutionary War ………… 6 years, 9 months
- Iraq ………………………… 5 years, 8 months
- First Barbary War…………..5 years
- Civil War ………………….. 4 years
- Philippine Insurrection……..4 years
- WWII ………………………. 3 years, 8 months
- Korean Hot War…………… 3 years, 1 month
- Kosovo………………………3 years
- Somali Civil War……………3 years
- War of 1812 ………………. 2 years, 6 months
- Bosnia……………………….2 years
- U.S.-Mexico War ………….. 1 year, 10 months
- WWI ……………………… 1 year, 7 months
- Invasion of Grenada……….1 year
- Second Barbary War……….1 year
- Spanish American War……. 8 months
- Persian Gulf War ………… 1.5 months
The Gulf War was only a 1.5 month hot war, costing $200 billion in disability and health benefits. Of the 1.1 million US soldiers in the first Gulf War, 300,000 were granted disability compensation, many of which is long-term. By comparison, one-third of soldiers coming back from Iraq have been diagnosed with deep depression, PTSD, and traumatic brain injuries. Many will not be able to work full-time and will have other problems associated with mental health and their quality of living. A disproportionate number of homeless in the US are Vietnam Veterans; we are creating the new generation of homeless and disabled by, even with the exorbitant military spending levels, lack of adequate VA funding.
The DOD website says the number of wounded American soldiers in Iraq is 30,000. This number only counts those wounded in “hostile action”. But non-combat wounds, Stiglitz discovered through a FOIA request, was more than double the official number. That is over 60,000 soldiers that are not included to make the war appear less volatile to the US public.
The costs I outlined here are actually more overt than others Stiglitz covers: there are hidden costs from borrowing foreign money to finance the war, deficit-spending (an all time high), the opportunity costs from occupying Iraq versus managing crises in the U.S., like Hurricane Katrina or the Iowan tornadoes; increases in oil prices and the effect on futures markets; the lost investment in young people who are dead or disabled from the war who would have lived productive lives otherwise; the cost of Iraq versus funding research in medicine and mental health, and so on.
Here is Stiglitz on the Colbert Report talking about the book.
by Joe La SacTuesday, October 14th, 2008
Over and over again, myopic economists answer this question by excluding important independent variables, like you are about to see.
In a paper titled “Using Terror Alert Levels to Estimate the Effect of Police on Crime” (a copy of the article is available here) Klick and Tabarrok argue that changes in the national terror alert (“green”, “yellow”, “orange”, “red”, etc.) corresponded to shifts in crime levels.
“On high-alert days,” they wrote, ”total crimes decrease by an average of seven crimes per day, or approximately 6.6 percent.”
And, every $1 to add officers would reduce the costs of crime by $4.
By measuring elasticities for auto theft and other street crimes while the terror alert is high as opposed to when it is low, the economists conclude with a straight face that “if we had a 10 percent increase in police, crime would go down by about 4 percent.” Nationally, ”that means about 700,000 fewer property crimes and 213,000 fewer violent crimes.”
Or in other words, an increased threat of terrorism makes America’s streets safer. Only the economists’ argument is for carefully designed to talk only about the ‘effect of police on crime’, not the ‘effect of expected terrorism on the person in the street’.
All surface-level discussion of urban social policies emerges from a context of fragmented thinking. Many theoretical accounts in political science, economics, criminal justice, are not validated, or held to rigorous social scientific (more broadly defined) standards. But this does not stop us from implementing flawed policies. Even if terror alerts or the number of police decrease crime on a superficial level like this, it is still highly contestable whether an emergency policed state is the social meaning of order and security.
Professor Klick offered an even more striking suggestion to a NYTimes reporter. ”It wouldn’t be unreasonable,” he said, ”based on our estimates and based on conservative estimates of the costs of crime, to say it would be cost-effective to actually double the number of people working in police forces, which is pretty amazing.”