Economic collateral damage – from suicides to human trafficking

Posted on | augustus 15, 2011 | No Comments

Governments excuse their actions in war where there are innocent victims that fall casualties, calling them ‘collateral damage’, as though these human beings, invariably women and children, are parts of a building that falls unintentionally when another nearby building is the intended target. A similar thought pattern exists in describing the hundreds of millions of people whose lives are disrupted not just during economic recessions, but in a broader context of evolving social discontinuity where a segment of the middle and lower strata of society experiences downward mobility.

Victims of economic collateral damage include everyone from those that take a pay cut and ‘downsizes’ personal and/or family living standards to those who kill family members and/or colleagues and friends and/or commit suicide. Home foreclosures and lack of funding for public housing (150,000 units destroyed in the past 15 yrs.) in the US has driven more people into poverty and resulted in higher crime rates and rise in prison population.

On 8 November 2010, the Boston Globe linked the recent ‘housing bubble’ to the ‘prison bubble’ that has resulted in ‘economic collateral damage victims’. One could argue that prison construction is a way of stimulating the local economy while at the same time taking out of the labor force people that would otherwise be counted as unemployed or welfare recipients if they were not in prison. Considering that most of the prison population is male, the family structure is devastated because father and sons are behind bars instead of functioning harmoniously in what should be a ‘well-adjusted society’.

The phenomenon of downward mobilization and disruption of the social fabric is no longer confined to inner cities, but to suburbs as well as rural areas devastated by the rapidly changing parasitic economic structure that fails to provide jobs with ‘living wages’. This is one tangible result of the shrinking the welfare state while re-directing public funds toward corporate welfare to strengthen finance capital that increasingly concentrates more wealth in fewer hands that invest in parasitic ventures and perpetuate cyclical crises.

The phenomenon of a disrupted social fabric is not confined to the US. Ireland and Greece, both under IMF-EU austerity measures and poster-children of how ‘bad government ruins economies and peoples’ lives’, both deeply in fiscal and economic trouble, are displaying signs of societal malfunction. There is something seriously wrong with the market economy when former IMF director Dominique Strauss-Khan goes on French TV (Canal +) and acknowledges that Greeks are “swimming in shit” as a result of the economic crisis. There is something wrong when Portugal, Spain, Italy, Ireland, and so many other countries, including the US have substantial segments of their population that are also swimming in economic cesspools not much different that the one of Greece.

If the swimming was in a small pond and the shore was visible it would be tolerable, but what if the swimming is taking place in an ocean? ‘Swimming in shit” refers to 40% youth unemployment, 15% overall; a sharp rise in small store closings, and a 25-30% drop in the income of middle class and workers, while banks and the few large domestic and foreign enterprises continue to enjoy mass transference of income through fiscal policy from the lower strata to the upper. This too is ‘economic collateral damage’ that will continue into the next generation.

Socioeconomic conditions are not much better in Ireland where there is three-fold suicide increase among unemployed men and women during the recent recession. Women entering the work force in droves in the 1990s are especially vulnerable. With the rise in suicide there is also a rise in crime, everything from domestic abuse and violence, mostly against women and children, to property crime. In the US the incidents of such violence is greater than it is in Ireland and Greece. Shelters for victims of abuse, the homeless, and soup kitchens feeding those unable to afford daily sustenance have risen during the recent recession. Between 50% and 75% of Americans seeking shelter assistance are economic collateral damage victims.

Another tragic dimension of economic collateral damage pertains to human trafficking, a subject that I have addressed on previous blog postings. An international business involving billions of dollars and millions of victims mostly of young ages and mostly of women, human trafficking is only second to the narcotics trade in terms of illegal activity. The more the world economy contracts as it has in the last three years, the more difficult conditions become in poorer countries for people to survive, allowing for Human trafficking tom take place.

Human trafficking involves the forcible movement of people for slave-like labor, sexual exploitation linked to deadly diseases like HIV/AIDS, and human organ removal in rare and desperate cases. Most of the trafficking takes place in Asia and Africa involving just under one million people in the trafficking trade, and two-and-half million in forced labor situations. Latin America is third in human trafficking with a small percentage taking place in Europe and North America.

The UN and NGO’s efforts to curb human trafficking notwithstanding, unless the root socioeconomic causes are addressed systemically, human trafficking cannot and will not stop simply by having seminars where a group of intellectual gather to ‘talk about the issue’. The only solution to this and to all economic collateral damage problems is to achieve socioeconomic and political justice. All evidence points that even greater social injustice is in the offing. The solution is not the current ‘band-aid’ approach by NGO’s, but the realization that human trafficking in sub-Sahara Africa, for example, is linked to the suicide of an Irish worker who lost her job, and to a chronically unemployed steel worker in the US who robbed a liquor store and wound up in prison.

Economic collateral damage is not a just a matter of personal tragedies, but an issue about the kind of society that the market economy as currently constituted is shaping; it is an issue about the reality that society has increasingly come to accept human beings as economic collateral damage, just as it accepts that innocent children will be killed in time of war.

AUTHOR: Jon Kofas
E-MAIL: jonkofas [at]


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