Magazine article Colorlines Magazine

Keeping Up with the Dow Joneses: Debt, Prison, Workfare

Magazine article Colorlines Magazine

Keeping Up with the Dow Joneses: Debt, Prison, Workfare

Article excerpt

BY VIJAY PRASHAD

Vijay Prashad's latest book makes a solid contribution to the tools available for political education, analysis, and planning. Prashad, a professor of history at Trinity College, pumps out a slim volume or two annually, working from articles and lectures written along the way. His creatively-titled books explore the intersection of race and economy. The Karma of Brown Folk was a fresh examination of South Asian political and racial identity in the United States, and Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting argued to continue the history of black-Asian solidarity.

In Keeping Up with the Dow Joneses, Prashad offers more of his particular combination of numbers-heavy analysis, leftist passion, and down-to-earth campaign studies. Although much of the material has been covered elsewhere, including in Prashad's own magazine articles, not many books connect these three critical trends of debt, prison, and workfare, and even the sophisticated reader is unlikely to know each arena thoroughly. The debt chapter reviews the familiar material of the growing wealth gap, the rise of contingent work patterns, and the rise of a global sweatshop economy. Prashad supports with specifics his argument that working class people carry a disproportionate burden of debt that redistributes income upward. This chapter ends with economic justice case studies, including a detailed study of the New York City Taxi Workers Strike of 1998. The idealistic Prashad knows how to find the benefits in lost campaigns: people organized, press generated, new ideas put forth.

The prisons and workfare chapters also cover developments in those two fields over the 1990s. …

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