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January 15, 2013

States using slave labor to plug holes in their budgets

A Republican Senator just last week introduced a bill requiring all prisoners to work 50 hours a week. He wants to do this because of the recession. But wouldn't it make *more* sense to just hire people? But, yes, that would cost money. Money that would require taxes to be paid. It's much easier to bust people for minor drug crimes and lock them up for a decade and turn them into a slave labor force. Prison Inmates Help States Fill Budget Gaps - NYTimes.com
Prison labor — making license plates, picking up litter — is nothing new, and nearly all states have such programs. But these days, officials are expanding the practice to combat cuts in federal financing and dwindling tax revenue, using prisoners to paint vehicles, clean courthouses, sweep campsites and perform many other services done before the recession by private contractors or government employees. In New Jersey, inmates on roadkill patrol clean deer carcasses from highways. Georgia inmates tend municipal graveyards. In Ohio, they paint their own cells. In California, prison officials hope to expand existing programs, including one in which wet-suit-clad inmates repair leaky public water tanks. There are no figures on how many prisoners have been enrolled in new or expanded programs nationwide, but experts in criminal justice have taken note of the increase. “There’s special urgency in prisons these days,” said Martin F. Horn, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction. “As state budgets get constricted, the public is looking for ways to offset the cost of imprisonment.” Although inmate labor is helping budgets in many corners of state government, the savings are the largest in corrections departments themselves, which have cut billions of dollars in recent years and are under constant pressure to reduce the roughly $29,000 a year that it costs to incarcerate the average inmate in the United States.

January 14, 2013

Japan rejects austerity, providing an example for the world

Making the point--again--that our economic crisis isn't really an economic crisis, it's a political crisis. No one in politics has the balls to admit we need slightly higher taxes and massive infrastructure spending to pull ourselves around. Japan Steps Out - NYTimes.com
While getting out of a prolonged slump turns out to be very difficult, that’s mainly because it’s hard getting policy makers to accept the need for bold action. That is, the problem is mainly political and intellectual, rather than strictly economic. For the risks of action are much smaller than the Very Serious People want you to believe. Consider, in particular, the alleged dangers of debt and deficits. Here in America, we are constantly warned that we must slash spending now now now or we’ll turn into Greece, Greece I tell you. But Greece, a country without a currency, doesn’t look much like the United States; surely Japan offers a more relevant model. And while doomsayers keep predicting a fiscal crisis in Japan, hyping each uptick in interest rates as a sign of the imminent apocalypse, it keeps not happening: Japan’s government can still borrow long term at a rate of less than 1 percent. Enter Mr. Abe, who has been pressuring the Bank of Japan into seeking higher inflation — in effect, helping to inflate away part of the government’s debt — and has also just announced a large new program of fiscal stimulus. How have the market gods responded? The answer is, it’s all good. Market measures of expected inflation, which were negative not long ago — the market was expecting deflation to continue — have now moved well into positive territory. But government borrowing costs have hardly changed at all; given the prospect of moderate inflation, this means that Japan’s fiscal outlook has actually improved sharply. True, the foreign-exchange value of the yen has fallen considerably — but that’s actually very good news, and Japanese exporters are cheering. In short, Mr. Abe has thumbed his nose at orthodoxy, with excellent results.