A modest proposal for creating a growth economy

The merits of investing in crime.

The G20 have been scratching their heads about how to recover from the Great Recession and create jobs in stalled economies. They could do worse than taking a page from the policy book of the Harper Government, as the Canadian Government is now known, and invest in crime.

The Harper Government’s modest proposal has the advantage of not requiring high crime rates, or any statistical data for that matter. For with this plan the government can create crime. The secret to creating crime is, of course, in manufacturing criminals. I would argue that, with the Harper Government’s Tough on Crime proposal, we can make such good criminals that, with a little venture capital, we will be able to increase employment and boost the economy for decades to come.

The first step is blindingly simple, yet elegantly efficient: increase jail time. For if there’s one thing the research tells us, it’s the longer the sentence the better schooled the criminal. And if there’s one thing the Harper Government loves, it’s research. That step has been taken, thanks to their Truth in Sentencing Act. Next up are tougher laws for drug-related crimes and plans for mandatory minimum sentences for a variety of offences, including unreported crimes.

The second step will require a little more work: redefine criminal to include a wider range of activities – shop-lifting for example, or being downtown during a protest. I tell you, it’s a gold mine – there are nearly 29 million people over the age of 14 who shop in downtowns all over Canada. All the government has to do is call another meeting of the G20. That would also afford the world’s leaders a first hand view of another example of Canada’s fiscal acumen.

We know the Harper Government is serious about this because they already have at least two senior party officials in place and out front: Senators Doug Finley and Irving Gerstein who know a thing or two about redefining what is legal and what not – allegedly.

The third step, waiting for the appropriate time in the future (ie, a Conservative majority) will be to incarcerate people before they commit a criminal act. I have it on good authority that the Harper Government has already contracted the Cruise Corp. to look into how this might work. The fourth and final step will be to sentence people for thinking about a criminal act. By that time, the list of criminal activities will have expanded to include homosexuality, reading or writing statistical reports, praying to more than one God at a time, praying to the wrong God, and having impure thoughts about John Baird.

All this raw material creates an obvious need for more refineries (formerly known as prisons). The Harper Government has estimated the start-up costs required for this venture to be $2 billion, give or take a half billion, over the next five years. The Parliamentary Budget Officer thinks it will cost $5 billion, which is still $100 million less than what the Liberals were going to spend on the Kelowna Accord.

But what price can you put on safe streets and a revitalized economy? The cost is not the point; the point is that the Harper Government is protecting Canadians and investing in the future.

The trick is to keep operating costs at a minimum. As criminologists are forever telling us, if you want to equip people for a life of crime, do not serve up rehabilitation along with punishment. So, no more coddling those who have preyed on the rest of us: no counselling services, no holidays in mental health wards hopped up on anti-depressants, no workplace training, no free food – inmates will have to grow their own in the exercise yards of their refineries.

Criminological research demonstrates such a regime will leave people angry enough and educated enough in a variety of criminal activities to make a career out of breaking the law when they get out. The Harper Government has obviously done its homework. Turning out better criminals will create a need for more police officers, more paramedics, more lawyers, more courts, more court workers. The need for more law enforcement products (guns, pepper spray, handcuffs, sound canons) will provide a ready and sustainable market for our manufacturing sector. You can see how quickly this can become a growth industry.

When the whole thing gets expensive enough, we anticipate the Harper Government will do the right thing and privatize the system by leasing the job to the highest bidder, or Lockheed Martin in a non-compete. This should offset at least some of the start-up costs while Canadians hold on to the capital assets – the prisons themselves. There are major companies in the US with the experience and expertise and purchasing power to make the system work efficiently. The corporation to whom we lease the operation will be listed on the TSX which will provide a wonderful investment opportunity. If the TSX merges with the LSE, we would expect to see a healthy jump in investment in Canadian oil and criminal commodities.

Of course, it will take a few years to get going. Those first incarcerated under the new tough on crime legislation will have to work their way through the system. But if everything goes according to plan, crime rates should start to take off within 3 years of start-up and police and justice budgets within 5 years. You can’t hurry this sort of thing, you have to be in for the long term.

Once running at full capacity, there are a number of measures of success. We expect “protection from crime rates” (formerly known as “recidivism rates”) will climb to 90% or even higher, which means there will be an unending supply of recyclable material, a manufacturing and environmental bonus. The goal is parity with the US: 1 in every 100 Canadians in jail.

Critics of the Harper Government’s scheme are saying that it is Kafkaesque, especially with its eventual incorporation of sentencing for unreported, planned and thought crimes. They argue that it is a cynical warping of a governments’ duty to reduce, not increase, crime. But it is not the government’s duty to reduce crime. That is the duty of the police, and it is a principle of democracy that government not be seen to be directing the police.

It is true, as Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you.” The same goes for crime. As the recession swells the ranks of the poor and the poor swell the ranks of the criminal, we will need all the tools we can get to catch and incarcerate those who would have committed a crime anyway, sooner or later, probably. It only takes a little common sense (and the providence of the Harper Government) to know that it’s better to be safe than sorry and a stitch in time saves nine.

Soft on crime liberals, and even some conservatives like Newt Gingrich, say the US war on crime was a bad idea; that it was a mistake to lock up everyone who commits a criminal act. They say it’s cheaper to treat drug addicts and the mentally ill than to put them in prison. So what? We’re in a recession people. As Bill Clinton used to say, “It’s the economy stupid.”

Rehabilitation, re-integration, reconciliation – these are all code words for soft on crime. They are reformer pipe dreams undermined by liberal practice. They also have the counter-productive consequence of reducing the supply of criminals to our refineries. How are drug offenders, for example, or the mentally ill to be contributing members of this growth industry if they get off drugs or are put on drugs, as the case may be? If you are in the business of adding value to a product, it makes no sense to siphon off a major source of raw materials. Look at what all those pipelines going south from the tar sands into the US have done to our oil refinery business. We must not let that happen to our criminal refining industry.

All things considered, there is much to recommend this plan. It will create jobs out of virtually nothing. To quote Shoeless Joe, “If you build it they will come.” It will stimulate our construction and manufacturing industries. It will, at one blow, protect Canadians from a new breed of hardened criminal and sweep from our streets the more reprobate of those in the underclass. Or, to paraphrase the Queen of Hearts, never mind the verdict, let’s have the sentence.

David McLaren has worked in government, the private sector, with NGOs and First Nations. He is a writer living at Neyaashiinigmiing on the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario

March 2011
© David McLaren

by Polly Keeshig-Tobias

Alice in Harperland: The Tories get tough on crime. (Polly Keeshig-Tobias, with permission)

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About David McLaren

David McLaren is an award-winning writer. He has worked in government and the private sector, with NGOs and First Nations in Ontario. He is currently writing from Neyaashiinigamiing on the shore of Georgian Bay and can be reached at david.mclaren@utoronto.ca. In February 2015, he won the nomination for the NDP to represent the riding of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound in the 2015 federal election. See that page for writings during the campaign.
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