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Book Review: Capital Crimes

by George Winslow, Monthly Review Press (1999), 360 pages

Review by Allen N. Huxley

Crime dominates the news, arouses fear and anger among the mass media-consuming public, and oils the rhetorical machinery of opportunistic politicians. Yet for all of the moralizing, finger pointing, and "get tough" policy making, few pause to examine the deeper question of what it is about the American model that has catapulted "crime" to such prominence.

Author George Winslow uses Capital Crime to expose how the "law and order" approach to crime had its roots in the Industrial Revolution, with the need to subjugate workers and allow big business to flourish unfettered by social concerns.

Winslow details how racism, fear of immigrants, and media propaganda were all developed as tools to further the interests of government and industry. He traces the progression of this model to modern times, where billions are spent annually in socalled crime fighting efforts, while the underlying causes are virtually ignored.

Winslow explores how crime does not mysteriously appear out of nowhere, but is actually the inevitable result of economic practices and public policy choices that have evolved over the last 200 years. The amount of ground Winslow is able to cover in doing so is nothing short of astonishing. He takes the reader from the opium fields of Southeast Asia to the street corners of Harlem, from Wall Street to the forests of the Pacific Northwest, from the board room to the courtroom to the tenement slum.

With concise and powerful writing, Winslow traces the logical (though not always obvious) connections between events as seemingly disparate as the destruction of the rain forest, the crack epidemic, bank fraud, labor struggle, and "gang violence."

His prose is packed with facts and figures, hinting at the exhaustive amount of research that must have gone into this project. The statistics are as accurate and uptodate as possible. Conflicting results of various studies are thoroughly deconstructed, and all sources are meticulously cited.

Yet the sheer volume of information never becomes cumbersome or overbearing because the statistical data are seamlessly woven into the text and serve only to bolster the exciting narrative. In fact, this otherwise scholarly tome actually reads more like a fastpaced action story, grand in scope, replete with an outrageous cast of characters from pimps to presidents, welfare mothers to investment bankers.

Part one of the book traces the historical roots of the failed war on drugs. Part two chronicles the evolution of the prison industrial complex. And part three, titled, "The Trillion Dollar Gang," brilliantly exposes the devastating longterm impact of corporate crime.

Winslow explains how it came to be that no politician stands a chance of election without adopting a "get tough" stance on crime, even socalled liberal Democrats. He presents bizarre quotes from an assortment of public officials throughout modern history, which might seem laughable if the absurd policies they espoused hadn't actually been later implemented.

The best thing about Capital Crimes is that, like Christian Parenti's "Lockdown America," this book tackles a complex subject and lays it out in clear, highly readable form. Nearly every page of this entertaining and informative book contains some shocking statistic or fascinating historical revelation that will knock you off balance and challenge you to rethink your beliefs about "crime" and the economic and social forces that lie behind it. Highly recommended.

This book is available in paperback from PLN for $19. See the order form on page 34.

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