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The Economic Destruction of Baltimore

Baltimore, Police Violence and Economic Justice

by ROB URIE

“We need more police, we need more and tougher prison sentences for repeat offenders. The ‘three-strikes-and-you’re-out’ for violent offenders has to be part of the plan. We need more prisons to keep violent offenders for as long as it takes to keep them off the streets.”

Hillary Clinton 1994

The Economic Backdrop

American politics is the realm of Immaculate Conception where actual policies and accumulated history disappear behind a veil of personal characteristics and unrelated acts. The (mis)leadership class pretends that ruling class machinations— trade agreements, financial deregulation, imperial wars, surveillance and policing have no bearing on social outcomes. American cities bear the imprint of these policies plus the residuals of slavery, genocide and the particulars of Western capitalism that have embedded history into current social relations. This is to argue that the individualist explanation of Western history may be interesting for those so-inclined, but it fails as description in every conceivable dimension.

Political explanations of public policies like trade agreements and financial deregulation put a political face on fundamentally economic arrangements. When Bill and Hillary Clinton instituted the ‘tough-on-crime’ policies that so exacerbated mass incarceration there was a political explanation— pandering to White suburban voters’ manufactured fears of a Black urban underclass to garner votes, but the policies tied closely to American economic history as well. From slavery to convict leasing to urban dispossession, racial repression has produced economic value that has been expropriated. The Clinton’s neoliberal trade policies exacerbated the urban industrial exodus while deregulation of finance ‘monetized’ Black wealth for the taking. Seemingly unrelated ‘political’ policies often have economic explanations.

uriebalt1

Freddie Gray. Original image source: cnn.com

Economic history ties America’s cities to political and economic hierarchy through the dimensions of this hierarchy. Washington to Baltimore to Philadelphia to New York was the land route North for Southern Blacks fleeing slavery. This was also one of the routes to industrial jobs following WWII. Sequential (engineered) oil crises in the 1970s roiled industrial America. In the late 1970s and early 1980s Federal Reserve policies decimated the industrial economy by increasing the value of the U.S. dollar. Bill Clinton passed NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and his deregulation of Wall Street provided the money needed to finance the relocation of a large portion of the U.S. industrial base overseas. None of these policies were crafted by the inner-city residents.

Modern day Baltimore, Philadelphia, Detroit and Chicago have neighborhoods left behind by policy decisions that decimated the economic bases that once supported them. When there were jobs people worked. When the jobs left people either stopped working or found other, less remunerative work in the service sector. The housing boom and bust monetized inner-city houses...

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