Letters

Letters 07-25-2016

Remember Bush-Cheney Does anyone remember George W. Bush and Dick Cheney? They were president and vice president a mere eight years ago. Does anyone out there remember the way things were at the end of their duo? It was terrible...

Mass Shootings And Gun Control The largest mass shooting in U.S. history occurred December 29,1890, when 297 Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee in South Dakota were murdered by federal agents and members of the 7th Cavalry who had come to confiscate their firearms “for their own safety and protection.” The slaughter began after the majority of the Sioux had peacefully turned in their firearms...

Families Need Representation When one party dominates the Michigan administration and legislature, half of Michigan families are not represented on the important issues that face our state. When a policy affects the non-voting K-12 students, they too are left out, especially when it comes to graduation requirements...

Raise The Minimum Wage I wanted to offer a different perspective on the issue of raising the minimum wage. The argument that raising the minimum wage will result in job loss is a bogus scare tactic. The need for labor will not change, just the cost of it, which will be passed on to the consumer, as it always has...

Make Cherryland Respect Renewable Cherryland Electric is about to change their net metering policy. In a nutshell, they want to buy the electricity from those of us who produce clean renewable electric at a rate far below the rate they buy electricity from other sources. They believe very few people have an interest in renewable energy...

Settled Science Climate change science is based on the accumulated evidence gained from studying the greenhouse effect for 200 years. The greenhouse effect keeps our planet 50 degrees warmer due to heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere. Basic principles of physics and chemistry dictate that Earth will warm as concentrations of greenhouse gases increase...

Home · Articles · News · Books · Notes from the Underground
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Notes from the Underground

Nancy Sundstrom - May 22nd, 2003
Most readers of Eric Schlosser’s 2001 best seller “Fast Food Nation“ found themselves bewildered, outraged, horrified, and called to rise up in action, and appropriately so. Those who tackle his latest expose, “Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market“ can count on having the same sort of reaction.
According to author and Atlantic Monthly journalist Schlosser, around 10% of the American economy, and probably more, is built around illegal, underground enterprises surrounding drugs, pornography, and the exploitation of (largely) illegal immigrant labor. You’re not going to read about much of this in Newsweek or the Wall Street Journal, but as has become his trademark, Schlosser quickly builds a compelling, well-researched case that examines why each of these industries has not only existed, but flourished over the past 30 years, and is definitely on the rise in America.
He does it in the same style that made “Fast Food Nation“ so readable and credible, and the evidence presented defies one not to look at the way society as a whole has contributed to these enterprises, publicly denouncing, but privately supporting them.
In this excerpt from the chapter “The Underground,“ Schlosser explains the premise for his book:

“The three essays in this book shed light on different aspects of the American underground - and on the ways it has changed society, for better or worse. “Reefer Madness“ looks at the legal and economic consequences of marijuana use in the United States. Pot has become a hugely popular black market commodity, more widely used throughout the world than any other illegal drug. The enforcement of state and federal laws regarding marijuana guides its production, sets the punishments for its users, and suggests the arbitrary nature of many cultural taboos. Americans not only smoke more marijuana but also imprison more people for marijuana than any other western industrialized nation.
“In the Strawberry Fields“ examines the plight of migrant workers in California agriculture, who are mainly illegal immigrants. The state‘s recruitment of illegals from Mexico started a trend that has lately spread throughout the United States. Many employers now prefer to use black market labor. Although immigrant smuggling looms as a multi-billion-dollar business in its own right, the growing reliance on illegals has far-reaching implications beyond the underground, affecting wages, working conditions, and even the practice of democracy in the rest of society.
“An Empire of the Obscene“ traces the history of the pornography industry through the career of an obscure businessman and his successors. It describes how a commodity once traded only on the black market recently entered the mainstream, turning behavior long thought deviant into popular entertainment. Profits from the sale of pornography that used to be earned by organized crime figures are now being made by some of America‘s largest corporations. The current demand for marijuana and pornography is deeply revealing. Here are two commodities that Americans publicly abhor, privately adore, and buy in astonishing amounts.
Linking all three essays is a belief that the underground is inextricably linked to the mainstream. The lines separating them are fluid, not permanently fixed. One cannot be fully understood without regard to the other. The vastness and complexity of the underground challenge the mathematical certainties of conventional economic thinking. Hard numbers suddenly appear illusory. Prices on Wall Street rise or fall based on minuscule changes in the rate of inflation, the unemployment rate, the latest predictions about the GNP. Billions of dollars may change hands because an economic measurement shifts by one-tenth of a percent. But what do those statistics really mean, if 20 percent, 10 percent, or even 5 percent of a nation‘s economy somehow cannot be accounted for? America‘s great economic successes of the past two decades -- in software, telecommunications, aerospace, computing -- are only part of the story...
What happens in the underground economy is worth examining because of how fortunes are made there, how lives are often ruined there, how the vicissitudes of the law can deem one man a gangster or a chief executive (or both). If you truly want to know a person, you need to look beyond the public face, the jobs on the résumé, the books on the shelves, the family pictures on the desk. You may learn more from what‘s hidden in a drawer. There is always more to us than what we will admit. If the market does indeed embody the sum of all human wishes, then the secret ones are just as important as the ones that are openly displayed. Like the yin and yang, the mainstream and the underground are ultimately two sides of the same thing. To know a country you must see it whole.“

Yowser. Schlosser shows how good-old American know-how and ingenuity have been put to work for the betterment of pot, porn, exploitation, and excess, and draws fascinating parallels between underground and above-board operations. Especially effective is his putting a human face on the carefully researched numbers and socio-analysis through interviews and two case studies that back up his accusations of cultural malaise.
The questions he poses are tough, and the answers difficult. For example, why do we throw the book more harshly at growers of marijuana than murderers, and why does the system allow for poverty stricken Mexican laborers to be arrested, and then leave growers on their own to hire more? Schlosser believes that industries like pot and porn need to be made over ground and in the light of day instead of being the clandestine operations that they are, because only in that way can they be controlled. Many will undoubtedly challenge assertions like these, but what he really seems to be attacking is our hypocrisy as a society. And that is something that is hard to argue with.
“Black markets will always be with us,“ he writes. “But they will recede in importance when our public morality is consistent with our private one.“ Just as Schlosser did with Whoppers and Big Macs in his other books, he turns a glaring light on the dark side of our consumer appetites and throws down the gauntlet. The sight isn’t pretty, and you’ll most likely never look at strawberries in the same way again.

 
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