Below is a copy of this week’s issue of Econ Extra Credit. Sign up to receive Econ Extra Credit in your inbox weekly.
America’s prison system is “deeply implicated in all sorts of other aspects of ordinary political life.” That’s the message this month’s Econ Extra Credit documentary, “The Prison in Twelve Landscapes,” is meant to convey, according to filmmaker Brett Story. In conversation with David Brancaccio, Story reflects on how the prison economy has revived some parts of rural America, as well as how prisoners have become a valuable — if highly underpaid — part of the American labor force.
Hadar Aviram, a law professor and author of “Cheap on Crime: Recession-Era Politics and the Transformation of American Punishment,” said prisoners engage in many occupations while they’re serving time, often learning skills and developing strengths and perspectives of value to the labor market. Unfortunately, there’s still widespread discrimination by employers against people with criminal records, which makes it difficult to find work upon release from prison. “At any given moment, 1% of the entire population of the United States is incarcerated,” Aviram said. “We have a lot of people who actually have acquired skills and strengths where they were that we can use in the marketplace.” Listen to her full interview with “Marketplace Morning Report” here.
Don’t forget: We want to hear from you about this month’s documentary! Email us your thoughts and reactions at email@example.com. We’ll feature some of your responses in next week’s newsletter.
“The Prison in Twelve Landscapes” is available to stream for free on Kanopy and Topic (if you sign up for a trial membership) and for a small fee on various other streaming services. PLEASE NOTE: Certain scenes contain disturbing language.
Thanks for writing in to share your reactions to January's selection, "Capital in the Twenty-First Century." We love hearing from you! Here’s a selection of the responses we received.
“Great, but disturbing, documentary.”
“Depressing but it made so many [of the] changes I’ve been reading and hearing about since the start of the pandemic all fit together.”
“I now understand more about how things have changed and why, and what has cycled back around (and why). I have felt for some time now that there will be widespread uprisings if the wealth distribution isn't evened out more. Akin to the landed gentry and what that led to. I think we are in a very similar place to that period of time.”
“I read ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ a few years back, then watched the film a couple months ago. I’m now within a hundred pages of finishing Piketty’s follow-up book, ‘Capital and Ideology.’ My main takeaway is the inexorable accumulation of wealth by the owners of large amounts of capital at the expense of the rest of us. In the second book, Piketty demonstrates how power, and the ability to dominate political systems and culture, accompany this wealth. Importantly, he points out that historical pathways are not inevitable: Different, more democratic choices can be made. Piketty suggests rather technocratic solutions to the problems of ever-increasing inequality. Because these solutions would require redistribution, a dirty word in most quarters, and the sacrifice of sovereignty by nations in order to prevent capital flight, I do not feel hopeful.”
“’Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ is well worth the time. What are the chances we can get all members of Congress to watch it?”
Next week, we’ll preview our February selection in this “Econ Extra Credit” documentary film series.