Back on Christmas, Matt wrote an article called Five Untouchable Symptoms detailing five major problems facing the country that even leading Democrats rarely, if ever, address. Four of those five problems actually revolved around only two issues: America's extraordinarily high levels military spending and incarceration rates. Just how bad is the incarceration rate in America? According to a new study from Pew, 1 in 99 American adults are currently in jail. From the New York Times article on the report:
For the first time in the nation's history, more than one in 100 American adults is behind bars, according to a new report.
Nationwide, the prison population grew by 25,000 last year, bringing it to almost 1.6 million. Another 723,000 people are in local jails. The number of American adults is about 230 million, meaning that one in every 99.1 adults is behind bars.
Incarceration rates are even higher for some groups. One in 36 Hispanic adults is behind bars, based on Justice Department figures for 2006. One in 15 black adults is, too, as is one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34.
Military spending and incarceration rates are also both cornerstones of the booming Republican public sector economy:
In 2007, according to the National Association of State Budgeting Officers, states spent $44 billion in tax dollars on corrections. That is up from $10.6 billion in 1987, a 127 increase once adjusted for inflation. With money from bond issues and from the federal government included, total state spending on corrections last year was $49 billion. By 2011, the report said, states are on track to spend an additional $25 billion.
While this is only 2% of the public sector economy, like military spending and corporate welfare, it is also not an area of spending that is ever seriously questioned by any major politician. These areas of government spending are also major reasons why government spending continues to explode, even under the guidance of so-called fiscal conservatives and libertarians. Invariably, these areas of spending also disproportionately favor red areas of the country and pro-Republican demographics. It is a vast economy of hypocrisy, where conservatives talk about the need for personal responsibility and to cut government spending, but ultimately greatly expand, and redirect, federal and statewide spending in order to fatten the wallets of their strongest supporters.
Breaking and redirecting current government spending patterns away from these industries is also a key to building a long-term progressive governing majority. Not only would it shift the balance of economic power in America, but it is also a key to de-funding the right. I'd love to see a study of how much conservative directed government spending of this nature ends up in Republican campaign coffers or in the bank accounts of the institutions that keep the Republican Noise Machine working. That flow of money is truly the circle of
life untouchable political symptoms in this country.