Christian Parenti

Taking Liberties: Prisons, Policing & Surveillance

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Economic libertarians like to remind Marxists and left-wing radicals that capitalism, whatever its flaws, is the best system for producing wealth ever concocted. Christian Parenti understands that capitalism creates a lot of wealth, but he reminds listeners in Taking Liberties that the price for that wealth is high. Capitalism, he argues, needs poverty. "If there are not enough poor people," Parenti states, "workers are too confident and they start demanding higher wages." The poor, then, threaten the rich by asking them to share the wealth and, occasionally, by rebelling. The state, in collusion with the titans of commerce, controls this threat by either co-opting the poor by spending on infrastructure (schools, welfare, administrative positions), or repressing the threat with laws and policies (the war on drugs, cutbacks in infrastructure). This theory serves as a background to Parenti's critique of the Bush administration's crackdown on civil liberties following September 11th. Whereas the Bush administration would argue that the Patriot Act was designed to protect Americans from future terrorist attacks, Parenti sees the legislation as providing cover for the FBI and CIA to police and imprison emigrants, the poor, and groups considered subversive. The terrorist attacks, in other words, provided cover for the state apparatus to pursue longstanding goals more vigorously. Taking Liberties is a provocative series of lectures that will be warmly welcomed by liberals and left-leaning radicals.

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