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The Real Choice: Social Control or Social Investment

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From Robert Reich Blog

Some societies center on social control, others on social investment.

Social-control societies put substantial resources into police, prisons, surveillance, immigration enforcement, and the military. Their purpose is to utilize fear, punishment, and violence to divide people and keep the status quo in place perpetuating the systemic oppression of Black and brown people, and benefiting no one but wealthy elites.

Social-investment societies put more resources into healthcare, education, affordable housing, jobless benefits, and children. Their purpose is to free people from the risks and anxieties of daily life and give everyone a fair shot at making it.

Donald Trump epitomizes the former. He calls himself the "law and order" president. He even wants to sic the military on Americans protesting horrific police killings.

He has created an unaccountable army of federal agents who go into cities like Portland, Oregon -- without showing their identities -- and assault innocent Americans.

Trump is the culmination of 40 years of increasing social control in the United States and decreasing social investment -- a trend which, given the deep-seated history of racism in the United States, falls disproportionately on Black people, indigenous people, and people of color.

Spending on policing in the United States has almost tripled, from $42.3 billion in 1977 to $114.5 billion in 2017.

America now locks away 2.2 million people in prisons and jails. That's a 500 percent increase from 40 years ago. The nation now has the largest incarcerated population in the world.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has exploded. More people are now in ICE detention than ever in its history.

Total military spending in the U.S. has soared from $437 billion in 2003 to $935.8 billion this fiscal year.

The more societies spend on social controls, the less they have left for social investment. More police means fewer social services. American taxpayers spend $107.5 billion more on police than on public housing.

More prisons means fewer dollars for education. In fact, America is now spending more money on prisons than on public schools. Fifteen states now spend $27,000 more per person in prison than they do per student.

As spending on controls has increased, spending on public assistance has shrunk. Fewer people are receiving food stamps. Outlays for public health have declined.

America can't even seem to find money to extend unemployment benefits during this pandemic.

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Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, "Inequality for All," to be released September 27. He blogs at www.robertreich.org.

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