Midterm Review 2 (HUM415)

The conversation in class Thursday was superlative– at least in my view– and I’m really gratified that so many people are willing to participate in dialog. I know that some of the things we talk about can seem soporific but we need at least a minimal grounding in the ways that contemporary capitalism has been assessed and criticized. For those who want to go further with this study, you can always consult the Free Books page. A few of the titles listed there such as Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, Ha-Joon Chang’s Bad Samaritans, and the Very Short Introduction to Neoliberalism offer insights into the political economy of the present for the general reader.

Globalized “free market” policies have had an extraordinary effect on the world’s population. Consider this passage from A Short History of Neoliberalism:

Today, as a consequence of these policies, the richest 358 people on earth have the same wealth as the poorest 45% of the world’s population, or 2.3 billion people.  Even more shocking, the top 3 billionaires have the same wealth as all of the Lowest Developed Countries put together, or 600 million people.[12]  These statistics flag a massive transfer of wealth and resources from poor countries to rich countries, and from poor individuals to rich individuals. Today, the wealthiest 1% of the world’s population controls 40% of the world’s wealth, the wealthiest 10% control 85% of the world’s wealth, and the bottom 50% control a mere 1% of the world’s wealth.[13]

The idea of “crime and system” supposes a link between criminality– practices (and even states of being) characterized as outside what is perceived (and codified in law) as the norm– and the framework of social reality– its institutions and ideologies– which structures our lives individually and collectively. That these two domains can and do overlap has been asserted by many artists and thinkers. Bertolt Brecht, for instance, suggested in Threepenny Opera that founding a bank was worse than robbing one, while Woody Guthrie observed that “some will rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain pen” in Pretty Boy Floyd. If those examples aren’t current enough consider Wu Tang Clan’s C.R.E.A.M.— which speaks to a kind of “capitalist realism” (see Mark Fisher’s book of the same name on the Free Books page)– or Jesse J’s Price Tag— which as with many pop songs tries to claim a utopian space of pleasure and authenticity outside the mercenary money economy.

A few final remarks:

1. Marking passages in GBK that specifically discuss Giorgio’s relationship to crime and system might be useful.

2. Understanding the role of race in the development of criminological discourse will help.

3. Know your Abbott.