Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Reader Comments on Slave Labor

Kate felt compelled to express her thoughts about our recent post, "Cook County's Slave Labor" (1/31/09). Take it away, Kate: OK, I'm guessing from the "write to us. we dare you." graphic at the bottom of your page that you're probably going to make fun of me for trying to make a point here, but I guess I'm a glutton for punishment. Here goes: I don't think your call for Schaumburg to pay highway workers rather than use free labor makes sense. Schaumburg's part of Cook County, so Schaumburgians (Schaumburgites? Schaumburgers?) are paying taxes to run the Cook County Jail. Why should they pay more taxes to hire paid laborers when there's free labor available from the jail? I realize that's just one example, but I don't see how the argument would be any different for any other part of Cook County. Even the hypothetical teenager denied the opportunity to shovel sidewalks is affected this way -- maybe he (or she) doesn't pay taxes, but his parents and his potential customers do, so he would also be hurt by an increased tax burden. I'm not really arguing in favor of S.W.A.P. here, I'm just saying that there isn't an economic argument against unpaid labor, as much as one would like there to be. If you don't like S.W.A.P., then make a moral argument against it -- but even that's not cut and dry, as you'd be arguing that it's better for everyone if drunk drivers get their three hots and a cot in jail rather than volunteer to do something productive to help the community. You could make the argument that slave labor is inherently an offense to the dignity of free labor, but then you'd be a left-winger, and I'm guessing you're not. Sincerely, Kate [last name withheld by editor] Editor's Response: I'd like to respond your statement that the residents of Schaumburg "are paying taxes to run the Cook County Jail. Why should they pay more taxes to hire paid laborers when there's free labor available from the jail?" Two reasons come to mind, Kate: Security concerns and human dignity. The SWAP prisoners are not chained, and outnumber the guards. In a dense urban environment, it would be easy to overwhelm the guards and disappear into the maze of streets and alleys. Respect for human dignity makes me feel that those prisoners should not be paraded through the streets like pack animals. Surely the county could find useful tasks for them in a more secure environment, where humiliation and the possibility of escape are both greatly reduced. Thanks for your comment, Kate. I did not "make fun of [you] for trying to make a point here," as you feared. Even though you and I disagree, you wrote a cogent, thoughtful and civil response. I respect that. It's the fools who completely miss the point in their comments and go off on lunatic rants that we love to make fun of. Please write again, Kate, your voice is welcome here. CNB RSS Feed