Friday, November 19, 2010


One of the more interesting things I've found when giving off-campus presentations is taking on topics that have been over-hyped by the media, and then turned into emotional and political spectacles. How can America begin to have a serious discussion on anything of substance when the media and the American public crave Ballon Boy stories, snooki-drenched reality shows, and other entertainment blood that have turned much of America into the world's navel-gazing heartland?

This is what I think about when I'm asked to explain complex topics that are trivialized by the media, like how our immigration challenges have actually been made worse by "free-market" policies that are hardly driven by free market realities.

Think about it. Just as no one wants to discuss the societal costs of a media culture driven by Balloon Boy-like drama, no one wants to discuss how reckless free market policies would push more Mexicans out of Mexico, and eventually feed a xenophobic and race-baiting crowd here in the U.S. The press, and our increasingly snooki-drenched society, would rather focus on spectacle than analysis.

As a result, in my off-campus talks, apart from having to explain Mexico's development history, I need to explain how the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was a highly scripted trade document that has little to do with free markets, or laissez-faire economics. This usually entails asking my audience how a multi-thousand page, government-escorted,  government-enforced, legally obtuse and lobbyist driven trade document reminds anyone of the magic of the market?

This is what makes this article on Prison Economics so ironic.

The article describes how a cabal of executives from the private prison industry came together to discuss industry business, and then ended up crafting the language that became Arizona's new immigration law. Their goal was to find a way to have the government pay them money for incarcerating more people. Getting the public foaming at the mouth over Mexican immigrants was their tactic of choice.

Think, for a moment, what this means.

Private prison executives, who stand to make lots of money if their prisons are full, developed an immigration law that's designed to increase arrest and incarceration rates of Mexican migrants. This, in turn, will lead to increased demand for more prisons because, according to the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the agency that detains illegal immigrants (Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE) is the targeted client, and will provide "a significant portion of our revenues" as incarceration rates increase.

So, at this time, this is what we have: An industry driven trade agreement (NAFTA), negotiated and enforced by the state (federal governments on both sides), that effectively forces Mexicans off their land and out of Mexico (in the name of efficiency). This is followed by industry driven immigration law, embraced and pushed for by the state (Arizona), which allows the private sector to profit from capturing and incarcerating "illegals" who enter the state.

With NAFTA and Mexico's laggard development levels forcing more Mexicans out of Mexico, rounding up and incarcerating them is kind of like shooting fish in a barrel. Only better.

With the state (at many levels) backing the privatization and incarceration activities, there are fewer people around to push for real policy solutions when it comes to developing Mexico. Worse, we're now feeding a private group that has both the resources and a financial stake in fighting comprehensive immigration reform, and demonizing an entire ethnic group. Nice.
And the privatized race to the bottom continues. 

- Mark

No comments: