Thursday, September 4, 2014

Forced Into Poverty

"Wish I was in the land of cotton, old times there are not forgotten, look away, look away..."

For some time -- I'd say since the beginning of this now permanent recession -- I've been prattling about the millions forced into poverty every year by our economic overlords and the government policies which support them. A couple of million every year are forced into poverty, while those at the top make more and more money, often directly from the impoverishment of those below them. It's a cycle, a vicious cycle that once started is very hard to stop barring intervention, but those who might have intervened in the past -- such as the government -- are the ones enabling and supporting the current state of affairs leading to such high levels of impoverishment. So there's no help there.

There are consequences, however, from these continual rounds of deliberate impoverishment, one of them being that there are many municipalities that farm the poor for revenue. They attract them and farm them and keep them poor and scrambling because it is so very profitable for them to do so.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't link to a Radley Balko article. For cause. When Balko was at Reason, he tended to be hyperbolic and he routinely dissembled. It was the culture there, and he was the Editor. He outright lied about competitors in the field. Since moving into the mainstream, he's apparently changed some of his evil ways, but I am still leery and skeptical of what he writes and says, just as I would be of Michael Gordon, Judith Miller, and Charles Krauthammer, all of whom have proved themselves over and over again to be marketeers of deadly falsehood.

With that caveat, Balko has an extensive examination in the WaPo of how the poor -- and mostly Negro -- residents of St. Louis County are farmed (he doesn't use the term) by the multiplicity of municipalities for revenue, and how these activities help maintain residents in poverty through fees, fines and forfeitures.

For those who aren't familiar with the practices that are so commonplace in St. Louis County and are not unknown elsewhere, it's a good introduction. For those who are familiar, it's a detailed examination of how the system works to fund the often corrupt municipalities in St. Louis County and elsewhere at the expense of those least able to pay. It's a nightmare for those caught up in it, and a treadmill off which it is almost impossible to get.

By design.

I have referred to the practice as "Negro Farming" -- a term I probably picked up during the Civil Rights era from some radical or other. Apparently the term is offensive to some delicate liberals and libertarians because it implies that "Negroes" are commodities. Well. That's the point. In a plantation culture, such as exists in large parts of the South, and in the ostensibly Midwestern (but actually quite Southern) city and county of St. Louis, farming cash crops is fundamental, whether the crops are cotton or tobacco or... Negroes. If plantation owners can't buy and sell their Negroes any more because of the interference of the (illegitimate) Federal Government, the plantation owners are going to find other ways to make their Negroes pay for the plantation. Sharecropping was one way. "Negro farming" by municipalities is another, one that may more lucrative all things considered.

What it means is that Negroes are attracted to a community that's experiencing white flight. In the St. Louis region, the initial wave of Negro residents into a neighborhood being abandoned by whites is typically solid middle class, but soon enough poor Negroes are attracted as well, often housed in Section 8 apartments. The first wave will own their houses, but the poor Negroes will rent using Section 8 vouchers which provide the mostly white landlords with a steady stream of rental income that they might not otherwise be able to get. The tenants tend to be transient, however, as economic hardship is imposed on them to a more or less significant degree by the extortions they are forced to pay via fees, fines, and forfeitures, starting often enough with their first traffic ticket for a broken tail light or lack of insurance.

The cycle begins. The victim often cannot pay and does not appear in court (which may only be in session once every two weeks). Bench warrants are issued. The victim will be apprehended at some point and be jailed, fined, and otherwise exploited. Some arrangement for payment will be made, some payments will be made, and then the cycle begins again, over and over and over again, in an endless round that the victim cannot get off of. He or she will be endlessly cited, fined, jailed, extorted, and so on without let up for so long as he or she remains in the St. Louis metropolitan region. If he or she manages to leave, the warrants that piled up in St. Louis will hang like a sword of Damocles over their heads forever.

It's a vicious cycle that municipalities depend on for a serious percentage of their revenue. It's not confined to St. Louis or the South, either.

Most Americans have no idea that it goes on, sometimes even when they are caught up in it.

The system forces people into poverty and keeps them in poverty. It does what it is designed to do.

Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown in the context of that system in Ferguson, Missouri. I understand that prior to the killing of Michael Brown, there hadn't been a homicide/murder in Ferguson for many years. This in a supposedly gang-riven and violent community of savages. No such thing was apparently the case, but resentment at the constant extortion and exploitation of the residents by the police was and is a hot button issue.

And I would say that as more and more Americans are forced into poverty they cannot get out of, the practices of the plantation owner communities of St. Louis County will spread and become standardized. Impoverishment and exploitation of the poor is already what many millions of Americans face every day. It is becoming the reality for many more. We've seen something of how it works in Ferguson and much of the rest of St. Louis County. But we shouldn't assume those patterns aren't commonplace elsewhere and aren't bound to spread far and wide.
The future is nigh.

"Look away, look away, look away Dixieland..."


  1. I'm curious why you use the term "negro." It's usually seen as a pejorative.


    1. I'm aware that some people find the term "negro" (or "Negro") offensive. Some tend to be offended that I use the term "Indian," too, instead of "Native American" or one of the other accepted terms for indigenous peoples.

      My choice of terminology depends on the situation and my environment more than whatever term is considered correct at the moment. For example, I use "Indian" more than other terms, because that's the term American Indians use most often with one another, and since I'm pretty closely involved with a number of American Indian groups, I use it too.

      As for Negro, I have a long history of involvement with a range of black artists and organizations, among whom the term "Negro" is not considered pejorative at all. Its meaning is complex, however, and often involves the kinds of exploitation that is described in the post. In other words, when describing a situation in which black folks are being exploited by whites -- or more and more by other blacks -- "Negroes" is often used to describe those who are being exploited.

      One of the best sites on the planet for understanding the use of the term is The Field Negro.

      But I understand that it can be grating to see this terminology used the way I use it.