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German Economics Minister Comments on U.S. Prison Labor

In February 2002, German economics minister Werner Mueller was questioned by reporters about Germany's unemployment rate, which is over 10%. Many observers believed that Germany's unemployment rate hurt the reelection chances of German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Mueller responded that Germany's unemployment rate would be 1.5 percentage points lower "if so many people were sitting in jail as in the United States."

Mueller is referring to the fact that if the 2 million people currently sitting in U.S. prisons and jails were included in U.S. unemployment statistics, those numbers (already the subject of creative accounting to give artificially lower numbers) would be much higher. They would be higher still if the people employed as guards, administrators, etc., of the prison industrial complex were factored in as well. [See the October 2000, issue of PLN for a discussion of mass imprisonment and labor markets].

Conservative commentators claimed the remark was "cynical" and that Mueller should be working to create jobs, not making speeches. Right wing newspaper Bild , stated "But to compare the jobless with jail inmates does go a step too far. None of Germany's 4.3 million jobless is helped by such stupid, blustering talk." An economics ministry spokesman said Mueller was responding to questions about why Germany's unemployment rate is higher than the U.S. rate.

Just as the American insistence on the death penalty is alienating other countries that have long since abolished it, it appears that mass imprisonment as a tool of economic development is another American policy that may be coming in for greater scrutiny by the international community. However, it appears that at least some elements of the ruling class in Europe are uncomfortable analyzing how and why the U.S. economy accumulates wealth faster than their own.

Source: Associated Press

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