I haven’t written in this blog in months, because I’m kinda chasing my tail writing two books at once, and it doesn’t leave much time or headspace for essay writing. But damn. Once in a great while, even whilst embroiled in fiction, I just get too confused and pissed off about an essay-lengthworthy topic to just bitch about stuff to my two-legged and four-legged roommates. So here comes an essay.
I admit it: the only TV news I can tolerate watching is comedy news. (John Stewart, the Colbert Report, South Park.) The reason being that they aren’t just filling time and making words come out of people’s mouths; they really have to kind of get their shit together if they want to get laughs. (Also, I’m addicted to comedy, and I usually hate what’s going on in the world, so the laffs are the spoonful of sugar that makes the awful, awful medicine go down.)
What I’m confused and pissed off about, thanks to Stephen Colbert’s recent short segment on prison labor, is the question: What the hell kind of economic system are we living under, anyway, and where’s the fucking exit door? I think I’ve mentioned before that the new global economy often looks to me like corporate feudalism. The prison labor situation, on the other hand, makes the U.S. chunk of that globe look like someone just deliberately cherry-picked the worst aspects of a “free” (as in free-falling) large-scale corporate market system and the worst aspects of a communist system and threw them in a blender with about ten pounds of dog shit.
What’s going on is this: UNICOR, a corporation that’s owned by the U.S. government (whuh?!) has a contract to provide the U.S. government with goods such as military uniforms and solar panels. They pay their workers hourly rates as low as 23 cents. (For some reason, the federal minimum wage does not apply to prison labor. I guess they’re supposed to be paying their “debt to society”… by undercutting law-abiding citizens for a job. Oh, that makes a lot of sense. So much sense my cerebral cortex just said “fuck it” and started trying to figure out how it can set up a whiskey distillery inside my skull.) Their contract stipulates that they are the ONLY company that can sell the government certain things (it used to also stipulate that they could only sell to the government, but now that restriction has been lifted, and they can now also compete on the free market… with companies who have to pay their workers a minimum wage. That’s like making one guy fight with two hands literally tied behind his back).
(For more reporterly, less frantically-ranting information on the issue, look at this shit: http://www.businessinsider.com/corporate-prison-labor-is-forcing-small-businesses-to-close-factories-2012-9)
But wait, you say, how on earth can somebody in the U.S. feed themselves on only 23 cents an… ohhhhhhh, yeah. These are PRISONERS. They’re living on prison food and sleeping in prison beds; hardly an enviable lifestyle, but one which is paid for not by the prisoners themselves but through taxes.
So as a taxpayer, you are actually subsidising, through the state, the feeding and sheltering of a SECOND dirt-cheap labor force–as though four billion starving third-world peasants weren’t competition enough–which is now going to fuck over your going rate as a wage earner through the free market. WHILE YOU ESSENTIALLY PAY THEIR MISSING WAGES OUT OF YOUR POCKET. Your taxes are what is making them cheaper labor than you are, in other words. If you’ve ever wanted to star in a three-hole gang rape porn video, lucky you, because you’re the only bottom who’s going to enjoy this production!
Your taxes go up, your wages go down… too far down for you to buy health insurance, but not quite far down enough to get subsidized health care. So you’ll also get to pay the new penalty tax for being uninsured (because where else are we going to get the money to subsidize health care for people who are barely poorer than you are?) WHILE you go without health care. Have fun dying of your next untreated disease! Well, by that point most people will probably be ready to be done with all this shit anyway.
Sometimes I think the government and big business have made a fun-times sport* out of fucking up people’s lives, just to see which one can be more effective at it–and since they’re our two major institutions (and one’s binary-based political stance is supposed to be based on which one we “like” — which only works for me if by that you mean which we would most “like” to see holocausted by a joint act of an extremely pissed-off coalition of every deity imaginable), this just looks like gloating to me. “Would you like to be a pro-business Republican and agree to get cornholed by megacorporations run by people whose families had the game tied up before your parents’ parents were born? Or would you rather be a pro-government Democrat and agree to get cornholed by a tax system that will take part of your measly paycheck and use it on ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING BUT anything that would ever benefit you in any way? Your third choice is don’t vote, and then you don’t get to complain about anything we ever do to you because you’re an irresponsible twat!” Uh, actually, if you could just drop me off on the moon next time you send a rocket up, I’d be fine with that.
* A sport where all the players are free agents and can swap teams at any time; if you’ll recall, most members of Congress are either past or future corporate execs/consultants/lampreys