Austerity Myths and Darkening Detroit

On the heels of my conference presentation at the University of Brighton, where I spoke about international trade and Juarez femicide, I’m glad to be back for this week’s blog bite to talk about a similar issue of neoliberal violence in two articles: “Austerity Isn’t Irrational” by John Milios at Jacobin, and “Detroit: A Case Study of Oligarchs and Vigilantes Taking Over Public Safety in a Big City” by Patrick Sheehan at Naked Capitalism. Whether you’re following GREXIT and the European Union in the news lately, or staying focused on poverty and privatization in American communities, these two articles both speak to the myth of austerity practices that slash social services in the hopes of furthering economic growth.

Before we jump past the cut to break down these articles into the information you need to know, I have to begin my first official week back at the blog by thanking Ravon for her great work during the two weeks I was gone! If you missed her exhibit review of the George Washington University Museum and Textile Museum, add it to your reading list now.

“Austerity Isn’t Irrational,” by John Milios
If you’re looking for a primer on austerity as an economic concept, you can’t beat Milios’ article for Jacobin. He defines austerity as:

the cornerstone of neoliberal policies. On the surface, it works as a strategy of reducing entrepreneurial cost. Austerity reduces labor costs of the private sector, increases profit per (labor) unit cost, and thus boosts the profit rate.

Milios goes on to establish austerity as “a class policy” which upholds the interests of capital as opposed to the interests of labor classes. Touching on Marx, and bringing these definitions of austerity right up to the modern day crises in Greece and many other parts of the world, he advocates for a solution in which, rather than cutting social welfare programs in society, which would penalize the working classes, we rebuild alliances between capital classes and labor classes and allow the profits of capital go towards struggling labor.

If you’re looking for a good, concise criticism on the Greece situation, which names politicians and clearly establishes their individual roles in the crisis, this is the article for you. As a bonus, it includes this fantastic definition of neoliberalism: “neoliberalism is a form of capitalist governmentality.”

“Detroit: A Case Study of Oligarchs and Vigilantes Taking Over Public Safety in a Big City,” by Patrick Sheehan
Naked Capitalism is a longtime favorite of mine for quality deconstructions of recent economic developments, and this article is especially interesting to me.

Sheehan covers the shutdown of Detroit’s streetlights starting in 2011, when the city was unable to clear it’s debts with the local electric company. While the city’s poor, black neighborhoods suffer their high crime rate and unavailable emergency services due to these decommissioned streetlights, a harsh austerity practice, the revitalizing downtown area of Detroit experiences the exact opposite. Downtown Detroit, which is experiencing a surge of young, white newcomers who flock to corporate jobs, corporations who themselves were attracted to the cheap cost of land and living in the struggling municipality, instead sees a new form of the neoliberal governmentality discussed in Milios’ writing: the privatization of police and emergency services as corporations employ security patrols which often extend their jurisdiction to the whole neighborhood rather than the buildings their companies own.

For those remaining in Detroit’s low-income neighborhoods, where this privatized police force does not extend, similar DIY policing efforts have been undertaken by local citizens, but without an institution behind them, they often fall flat, proving Milios’ writing almost perfectly: neoliberal austerity measures serve capital, not labor.

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