Posted by: vanhoff | April 16, 2008

Eric Schlosser: A Public Sociological Image – Part I Underground Economy

   The Underground Economy: Part I (My Take)

     Economic and political thinkers like Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson helped shape the way Americans of the past and present view the subject of the economy. Black markets were not very common two hundred years ago, because most activities were legal and very little taxation compromised how Americans lived. However, the underground economy took off during the Prohibition era of the early twentieth century and during this period in American history; the United States got its first taste of black markets and the culture that derived out of the black market. Schlosser takes note of our history using macro-level analysis of the black market’s structural and cultural attributes that affect the rate of crime and the acts of social deviance that arise from these cultures. However, some contend that his approach to such sociological topics is strictly journalism. Yet Schlosser takes an approach open approach to his work known as Public Sociology. This approach seeks to engage wider audiences rather than be defined by a particular method. Public sociology is a way of writing and a form of conversation that engages many to stop and think about a particular issue. The extensive footnoting and bibliography, along with Schlosser’s field research and interviewing, qualify it as full-blown investigative journalistic work with Public Sociology intertwined to give breadth to the issues.

            The first chapter is essentially a persuasive piece, a call for marijuana-law reform, and an examination of the illegal drug trade in the United States. Schlosser’s interests focuses on the few penalized growers that help him to make his case rather than trying to draw a larger picture of the market as a whole. However, that aside he wants the reader to understand how the structure of the American government has established itself as “the agent against pot.” Schlosser points out to the ironies of the U.S. government’s attempts to criminalize drug use. An example of this is the Federal laws enacted to stop drug smuggling that have led to huge increases in domestic cultivation. The toughest drug laws enacted years after drug use was at its peak; and Republicans say they support states’ rights, except when it comes to drugs are nothing but hypocrisy.

Raids on state-sanctioned marijuana distribution centers illustrate the distortion of the legal system. “Under California law, thousands of AIDS patients had been receiving marijuana through a handful of nonprofit cooperatives that worked closely with state law enforcement authorities,” Schlosser notes. “One by one, Bush’s Justice Department shut them down.” I did my own research on the hypocrisy of our American government and its current “war on drugs.”  “In 1981 Congressman Newt Gingrich introduced a bill to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana. Fifteen years later, as Speaker of the House, Gingrich sponsored legislation demanding a life sentence or the death penalty for anyone who brought more than two ounces of marijuana into the United States.” (Gale group, 2003)

            Schlosser has taken extensive notes, and used the Conflict Approach in understanding the hypocrisy that plagues our American government. The approach based widely on Karl Marx’s work looks at how two conflicting classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariats structure their lives. Schlosser has grasped the concept by looking at how the bourgeoisie of today’s society controls much of the wealth and political power. The bourgeoisie of today’s America includes the United States government, the senators, congressional representatives, white-affluent males, police, and the Drug Enforcement Agency who exploit proletariats with their ability to manipulate the legal system. This structural inequality according to Schlosser can be directly traced back to the late 1960s, when America’s youth culture broke free from mainstream values and norms. A decade later, anti-tax and anti-government conservatives helped push the business of sin to unimagined levels. “If the market does indeed embody the sum of all human wishes,” as Schlosser writes, “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.” To summarize, Schlosser allows the reader to sense a government-created moral panic over the use and distribution of marijuana. Once used for a variety of purposes, the marijuana plant is considered deviant by a legal collective. This legal collective has issued a “war.” Yet Cannabis hemp is part of our global heritage and was the backbone of our most stable and longest surviving cultures.


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