TJ English and the Political Economy of Crime

Strip away the desperation, the violence, the punishment, in the end, crime is a pretty basic undertaking, a single component in the larger matrix of commodity relations. That's what jumps to the fore in a certain reading of Whitey's Payback and Other True Stories: Gangsterism, Murder, Corruption, and Revenge, TJ English's compilation of crime writing over the past 20 years. English's new book reprints writing from the 1990s up to today on such things as the Witness Protection Program, the marketing in human labor, the framing of a black youth in '60s New York and recent writings on the capture of the notorious Boston gangster and longtime FBI informant, James "Whitey" Bulger.

English is not a true crime sensationalist in the manner of Nancy Grace, Geraldo Rivera or Greta Van Susteren. Such journalists, all protestations aside, make it their job to turn human horror stories into the grist of gossip and Manichean judgment. It is crime reporting as a peculiar form of entertainment. English is going for something else, in his words, the "vast ecosystem, a parallel universe to the social and economic system we observe in the upper world on a daily basis."

Take the example of undocumented immigrants from China's Fujian Province working in New York's Chinatown. Smuggled into the United States by Asian gangs, we learn they are at the bottom of a pauperized hierarchy: "Dominican illegals might work months to pay off his or her debt, an alien smuggled in from Hong Kong, Taiwan or Mainland China will work up to five or six years." For the privilege, they endure the most awful conditions – the brutal voyage, crushing work regime, and for the women, the violation of sexual abuse. In the words of a senior immigration agent, "What some of these aliens go through to get here would turn your stomach." All this goes into the clothes you wear, the shoes you walk in. It is suffering as a by-product, or in the words of Karl Marx, the "faux frais" [incidental operating expenses] of capitalism.      to continue reading click here

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