Eric London – What Determines Social Mobility in America?

Links to articles by Eric London:

“The New York Times on Race and Class: What Determines Social Mobility in America?” and Part 2

 

Bonus links: “Why Liberals Separate Race from Class” and “Beyond the Class Ceiling: Education and Upward Social Mobility” and “America’s Political Economy: Lost Generations — Cumulative Impact of Mass Incarceration” and “Fake News on Russia and Other Official Enemies: The New York Times, 1917–2017” and Liberalism: A Counter-History and “How Obama Destroyed Black Wealth” and “Between Obama and Coates” and “How Racial Disparity Does Not Help Make Sense of Patterns of Police Violence” and Review of Class, Race and Marxism and Walter Benn Michaels on Left Neoliberalism and The Trouble With Diversity and The Condemnation of Little B and “The Controversy Surrounding the Roseanne Television Series” and Social Class in the 21st Century

Bonus quote:

“it is not simply a matter of seeing which account of reality best matches the ‘facts’, with the one that is closest being the least biased and therefore the best. As soon as the facts are determined, we have already — whether we know it or not — made our choice; we are already within one ideological system or another. The real dispute has already taken place over what is to count as the facts, which facts are relevant, and so on.”

Rex Butler, “What is a Master-Signifier”

Jerry White – Teachers Unions Intensify Efforts to Suppress Growing Class Struggle in the US

Link to an article by Jerry White:

“Teachers Unions Intensify Efforts to Suppress Growing Class Struggle in the US”

 

Bonus link: Poor People’s Movements and “Making Greater Possibilities Inconceivable: Another Thought or Two on the Logic of Lesser Evilism”

Sarah Bruch & Joe Soss – The Lessons Students Learn

Link to an article by Sarah Bruch & Joe Soss:

“The Lessons Students Learn”

 

Bonus links: “Red Diaper Babies” and Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Richard Shaull Quote (“There is no such thing as a neutral educational process.  Education either functions as an instrument that is used to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes ‘the practice of freedom,’ the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”) and Deschooling Society and The Struggle for the Meaning of Society As Such and “Elite Universities Are Turning Our Kids Into Corporate Stooges”

Johann Hari – Depressed? Anxious? Blame Neoliberalism.

Link to an article by Johann Hari:

“Depressed? Anxious? Blame Neoliberalism.”

 

I very much question why this writer singles out neoliberalism, specifically, rather than capitalism, generally.  There is nothing in the article to suggest that only neoliberalism — but no other forms of liberalism or capitalism — is problematic.  While he has established that eliminating neoliberalism is necessary, he has failed to establish that doing so is sufficient.

 

Bonus link: “Lacan  Between  Cultural  Studies  And  Cognitivism”

Virginia Eubanks – The High-Tech Poorhouse

Link to an interview with Virginia Eubanks, author of Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor (2018), conducted by Sam Adler-Bell:

“The High-Tech Poorhouse”

 

Bonus links: “The Left Hand and the Right Hand of the State” and I, Daniel Blake and Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare and The State and Revolution and “Welcome to the Black Box” and “Algorithmic Accountability”

Maia Szalavitz – The Surprising Factors Driving Murder Rates

Link to an article by Maia Szalavitz:

“The Surprising Factors Driving Murder Rates: Income Inequality and Respect”

 

Of course, this data seems to exclude murders by the military and the police, relying on legalistic definitions that don’t apply the term “murder” to killings by the military and police.

Bonus link: “How Inequality Kills”

Jeffrey Reiman – …And the Poor Get Prison

...And the Poor Get Prison: Economic Bias in American Criminal Justice

Jeffrey Reiman…And the Poor Get Prison: Economic Bias in American Criminal Justice (Allyn and Bacon, 1996)


Jeffrey Reiman’s …And the Poor Get Prison: Economic Bias in American Criminal Justice is a 1996 edition of a book first published in 1979 and republished in revised editions through the eleventh edition in 2016 (most under the title The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison: Ideology, Class, and Criminal Justice).  Paul Leighton became a co-author on later editions.  The book is intended primarily for use as a textbook for college-level criminal justice coursework.  But it remains readable for general audiences as well.  This review addresses an edition now over twenty years old, and does not compare either newer or older editions.

In short, this book presents an outstanding critique of the ideology behind American criminal justice, concluding that the system and its institutions are biased against the poor.  What is most commendable about the book is that it is structured in a logical and coherent way, it provides citations and evidence for every one of its arguments, and it responds to typical counter-arguments.  In other words, rather than a polemic that simply asserts its thesis without testing it, or attempting to side-step normative moral and political judgments by hiding behind technocratic language, the book attempts to ground and defend its positions in an explicitly materialist way.  While it would be fair to say that not every individual argument in the book is well-taken, be it due to outdated or incomplete statistical information or something else, the overwhelming majority of what is presented is supported by both coherent theory and some type of empirical data.

The normative positions taken by Reiman are ultimately defended on moral terms, rather than on a “mistaken facts” basis.  In other words, he does not fall back on the weak justification that things would change if only people knew what the facts really were.  The saying from the total quality improvement discipline, that every system is perfectly designed for the results it currently achieves, fits perfectly into Reiman’s analysis.  Indeed, he mentions teaching a class in which he asked his students a question: how would they design a criminal justice system so that it “would maintain and encourage a stable and visible ‘class’ of criminals.”  The students indicated that it would look pretty much like the current American criminal justice system.

As Alex S. Vitale writes in a more recent book, The End of Policing, “Powerful political forces benefit from abusive, aggressive, and invasive policing, and they are not going to be won over or driven from power by technical arguments or heartfelt appeals to do the right thing.”  Reiman recognizes this too.  In this edition of his book, he alludes to this problem.  His goal is not to outline a specific political problem merely to justify addressing it in a particular predetermined way, but rather to detail the set of interrelated problems that justify a significant political intervention of some sort the particulars of which are not fully determined.

Reiman establishes a few points that should, now at least, be considered incontrovertible:

“1. Society fails to protect people from the crimes they fear by refusing to alleviate the poverty that breeds them . . .

“2. The criminal justice system fails to protect people from the most serious dangers by failing to define the dangerous acts of those who are well off as crimes . . . and by failing to enforce the law vigorously against the well-to-do when they commit acts that are defined as crimes . . .

“3. By virtue of these and other failures, the criminal justice system succeeds in creating the image that crime is almost exclusively the work of the poor, an image that serves the interests of the powerful . . . .”

In the details, Reiman admirably explains how bias in upstream aspects of criminal justice are more damaging than downstream ones.  For instance, legislation that exempts the actions of the rich from the definition of “crime” means that the rich never enter the criminal justice system in the first place, and sentencing fairness is therefore irrelevant to them.  While bias in downstream events like sentencing do matter, by that stage most of the rich have been filtered out of the system.  A key point here is prosecutorial discretion.  Reiman notes how it remains an opaque process rife with opportunities for bias that have been restricted in other areas.

There are a few flaws in this edition.  For instance, Reiman argues that his “Pyrrhic Defeat” theory is not a “conspiracy theory”.  But this is somewhat a strawman argument, with Reiman applying an unduly narrow criminal law definition of “conspiracy”.  It also overlooks a similar sort of middle-ground position like the “propaganda model” of mass media put forward by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, which emphasizes the reinforcement and reproduction of an ideological system while also suggesting causal intent, or the psychoanalytic concept of denial/disavowal/Verleugnung, in which denying something that affects an individual is actually a way of affirming what he or she is apparently denying.  Indeed, Reiman’s focus on the criminal justice system as such means he only discusses mass media complicity in passing, which seems like too little treatment.  Additionally, Reiman makes a conservative argument about gun control that is contrary to his other arguments(i.e., non-materialist), and counterfactual.  More recent evidence suggests that banning firearms will not reduce murder or suicide, directly contradicting Reiman’s claims.  And lastly, Reiman concludes the book with some suggestions to make the criminal justice system minimally morally defensible.  What is interesting here is that Reiman abandons the materialistic critique that grounded the entire book to that point and instead justifies his policy recommendations based on an entirely different foundation, namely that of center-left liberalism.  He cites the likes of John Rawls and John Stuart Mill.  While Reiman applies this approach because he seeks only to suggest the minimum necessary moral reforms, not the best possible reforms, his abrupt abandonment of a materialist philosophy renders the basis for these suggestions incompatible with his overall critique.  With the exception of the “gun control” position, which is not defensible, everything else is sort of unobjectionable, even if it comes across as kind of arbitrary as presented.

On the whole, this is a wonderful book.  It makes an essential introduction to the operation of the American criminal justice system, and provides a durable critique of its most fundamental moral flaws.