Race, Income, and Elections: The White (Male?) Working Class

In my last post before the election, I quibbled with Peter Levine’s strategic argument that Trump’s supporters might be momentarily richer than average, but only because they were older, maler, and whiter. I worried that it was a kind of mistake, even if it’s perhaps an analytic effort designed to enhance our ability and willingness to achieve strategic ends. Since the surprising election results last week, many more people are returning to questions about the working class, and specifically the “white working class.” I have been trying to think about this for a while, and I’m still coming up short.

So I’m returning to that argument, especially given his follow-up, “To beat Trump, invest in organizing:”

Meanwhile, we also need organizations in red states and red counties, in rural areas and exurbs. The point of organizing there is not to show empathy to Trump voters or to honor their concerns. The point is to win. Particularly in 2018, anti-Trump votes will be very poorly distributed–far too concentrated in the great cities to win the House and Senate back. Every extra vote in a white non-urban county will matter, and that requires organizations to change minds, to empower the disenfranchised, and to offer real benefits. By the way, although I think the Democratic Party is a necessary component of the opposition, it is not sufficient. Electing or reelecting responsible and caring Republicans in red districts is also essential.

This is very much of a piece with what he wrote before the election, when he tried to distinguish the strategic argument from the analytic one (emphasis mine):

If you have no organizations behind you, you’ll typically feel powerless. If that’s how you feel, you are unlikely to want to participate in a difficult conversation, make sacrifices and tradeoffs, acknowledge any unfair advantages, or negotiate. Again, to use Trump voters as an example: they are overwhelmingly White, and it would be appropriate for them to acknowledge White privilege when issues of racial injustice arise. But I think they are very unlikely to acknowledge their own privilege, let alone agree to concessions, as long as their overwhelming experience is one of powerlessness. And I think they are powerless if they are unorganized and represented only by unaccountable celebrities. This implies, by the way, that one of the most important tasks confronting us today is organizing the White working class.

Just who is the white working class? Levine defines it as white people without college degrees working blue collar jobs and living in counties with increasing white male mortality. This is remarkably precise, and perhaps it does indicate a set of shared interests that must be organized. And yet…

Depending on the way of measuring, as few as 1/5 of workers or as many as 2/3 of workers are in the working class. When economists use the term, it gets precisely defined, but then glossed by others in a confusing way. Are all jobs that don’t require a college degree blue collar? Does the working class include the service sector, or manufacturing only? Are we talking about all non-agricultural low skill manual labor? What about medium- and high-skill manual labor? That variation from 23% of workers to 66% of workers provides a massive opportunity for equivocation, and suggests that the term is well beyond anything that tracks a specific group. It reminds me of the way we talk about the “middle-class,” with precise definitions on offer in such variety that almost anyone can find one that they fit. With that much equivocation, the term lends itself to rhetorical manipulation or propaganda. 

But the most important question is this: why “white?” Why assume that–whatever the working class is–its interests are racialized? I wonder to what extent the “White Working Class” formulation merely reproduces the actual racism of a group of people who share thereby share a sense a pride and solidarity even if their material interests are not always aligned. Something that can be a social identity, a racial identity, and a class identity all at once.

I don’t fully know where I stand as I watch the dizzying play of free association. Just because a concept is ideological doesn’t mean it doesn’t call out a group of people who are interpellated by it and then cathect it themselves. Just the opposite, I think: we imbue arbitrary conceptual constellations with meaning in order to make our world liveable and loveable.

And there’s a triptych of books out recently trying to figure this out: J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, Kathy Cramer’s The Politics of Resentment, and Arlie Hochschild’s Strangers in their own Land.

Each picks up a different group, but in the first and last case I don’t know if they would fit the standard Labor Department’s classification of the blue collar worker. The Politics of Resentment does, though: using Wisconsin rural and exurban voters whose work is primarily physical and does not require a college degree, but are well-enough paid that they’d qualify as middle-class, yet have not seen their standards of living increase. This group in particular found Barack Obama’s campaign initially promising yet soured when he made comments about them clinging to God and guns. After years of field work, Kathy Cramer diagnoses three causes of their resentment:

That feeling is primarily composed of three things. First, people felt that they were not getting their fair share of decision-making power. For example, people would say: All the decisions are made in Madison and Milwaukee and nobody’s listening to us. Nobody’s paying attention, nobody’s coming out here and asking us what we think. Decisions are made in the cities, and we have to abide by them.

Second, people would complain that they weren’t getting their fair share of stuff, that they weren’t getting their fair share of public resources. That often came up in perceptions of taxation. People had this sense that all the money is sucked in by Madison, but never spent on places like theirs.

And third, people felt that they weren’t getting respect. They would say: The real kicker is that people in the city don’t understand us. They don’t understand what rural life is like, what’s important to us and what challenges that we’re facing. They think we’re a bunch of redneck racists.

So it’s all three of these things — the power, the money, the respect. People are feeling like they’re not getting their fair share of any of that.

This makes some sense: everyone wants power, money, and respect! These are the three hands: the invisible hand of the market, the intangible hand of esteem, and the iron hand of state coercion. And yet everyone always feels as if they are getting the back of these hands to some extent.

I still worry that this analysis makes a mistake about the relationship between race and class in support of a strategic point. To what extent is there a group of people called the “white working class” that is particularly injured by the ways that the political economy is organized? Remember that my position is that we ought to be wary about racialized organizations of white people. Indeed, I followed Arendt in worrying that the primary form of organization towards which such a group would be prone would be a racist or imperialistic one. That is, it’s precisely the effort to organize the disorganized that creates a populist nationalism. But this is not a popular view!

Yet this is a mainstay of American demographics: we cannot understand our country easily through income or education unless we add the racial coefficient. Once we’ve demographically controlled for race, only class remains:

[This conclusion] requires us to divvy up the working class into whites and non-whites. Having done this, we then find that non-white working class members strongly support Hillary Clinton, and white working class members strongly support Donald Trump. Thus something called “social class” predicts candidate support!

I still think this is right. That is, we can’t fruitfully rebut claims about race by dividing the working class into racial groups. It’s certainly true that these groups live and work in different places and may well have different cultures, although I do think that the Black Jeopardy SNL sketch captured something impressive about their shared outlooks:

Yet that’s quite clearly not enough to justify the overall claim that they belong to the same class. To do that, one has to ignore race. For instance, Levine concludes that:

[I]f class means social status, and status involves occupation and education, then Trump voters tend to be downscale Whites in downscale White areas.

Here’s what best predicted Trump support before the election: occupation, education, mortality level, gender, and age. Trump’s voters tend to be blue collar, to lack a college degree, and to live in those counties driving the white lifespan downward. Yet none of these explains Trump support as well as race. And indeed, after the election we have reason (although we must be careful of exit polls) to believe that whites with college degrees joined less educated whites to support Trump!

It’s clearly true that many of Trump’s voters are “downscale” compared to other whites. But they are equally “upscale” compared to non-whites. So the extent to which we can accept the class analysis of their support is the extent to which we can both assume whiteness (to capture the group that is not African-American and Latino and supports Clinton) and erase that whiteness. That’s the extent to which there is a group of people with a distinct class interest we can call “the white working class,” preserving and erasing whiteness at once. So what worries me is that we seem–for strategic reasons I mostly share–to want to deny that white nationalism is about race.

After all, by analyzing away their whiteness we miss one of their primary concerns: the relative loss of prestige associated with older white males.

I feel like I am being uncharitable to Levine and other class-first analysts of this election cycle, so let me ask some questions that might help me understand the position:

  1.  Are there non-strategic reasons to analyze the white working class separately from the non-white working class? For instance: in presidential elections, poor white voters vote in much higher numbers than poor Black and Latino voters. They seem more like white people than like poor people. Why does cutting the working class at the racial joint seem so smooth to you (and not to me)? Can you help me see my error?
  2. Is there a sense in which the white working class really is worse off than their incomes suggest? We often talk about this group’s recent surprising decline in lifespan, and I would add that they are uniquely threatened by the new college credentialism craze. But the white working class lifespan is still higher than for non-whites of the same class (or even much higher classes!) Perhaps the loss of status is measurably worse the the perpetual lack of it is: certainly non-whites have more optimism than whites in this income group.
  3. Put simply: is the racial division of the working class warranted? Can we cut the pie into racial pieces without eliminating our ability to rebut racial resentment explanations?

One last thing: since I wrote my last post, I have read this very interesting Monkey Cage post on research by Wayne, Valentino, and Oceno supporting the claim that sexism (and anger) is a better explanation of Trump support than racism (and fear.) Here’s a Vox gloss of the study. Though the Monkey Cage post is older, I had already been thinking about this because of the work of the philosopher Kate Manne (here, here, and here, for instance).

I think it’s difficult to see whether sexism causes voters to support Trump or Trump support causes voters to become more sexist. That is: how many of these misogynistic voters would vote for the Democrat if the Republicans had selected a woman candidate? It’s notable that sexist voters strongly preferred Romney to Obama in 2012, though less so than they prefer Trump. So it could be that when a man runs against a woman, sexists support the man, or it could just be that sexists tend to vote Republican. The fact that sexists are more likely to support Trump than Romney suggests the former. But there’s a third possibility: when a woman runs, her opponents become more sexist. They reach for reasons to oppose her, as we all do when we have a position to defend, and in a misogynistic culture the reasons closest to hand will tend to be gendered, misogynistic ones.

Resetting the Moral Baseline to Resist Status Quo Bias

  1. “Everybody should give most of their income to humanitarian charities.”
  2. “All whites who don’t actively fight white supremacy are complicit in it.”
  3. “There is no alternative [to capitalism.]”
  4. “You’re either part of the solution or part of the problem.”
  5. “Meat is murder.”
  6. “Abortion is murder.”
  7. “Murderers are people too.”

This list is an example of claims that we make to try to challenge status quo judgments about morality. They’re assertions (frequently contested) about what the moral baseline is.

I’m thinking about moral baselines because my friend Scu over at Critical Animal has a long post about them, wherein he evaluates the intra-activism debates over what the moral baseline ought to be in the animal activism community: veganism or activism towards the cause of eliminating animal exploitation and suffering:

I am worried about the rhetoric of moral baselines. The idea of baselines are clearly set to be exclusionary, and I worry that our movement is marginal enough as is, and that we have a tendency already to eat our own. I am further worried that it does not allow for flexibility and charitability in our discussions and debates over strategic, and indeed, ethical questions.

Scu here could be writing on prison abolition and reform as much as animal activism. My own post on this, Prison Abolition, Reform, and End-State Anxieties, raised much debate among my community of prison activists for precisely this reason: while to many people the reformer and the abolitionist are indistinguishably radical, there is a disheartening  tendency for reformers and abolitionists to fight rhetorical battles about the strategies and ends of the movement. Thus we are riven by rhetoric. To the abolitionist, this is because reform tends to reassert the status quo after superficial changes: the risks of complicity are real. To the reformer, though, this is unfortunate, because we could be more effective in solidarity.

Scu ends on the same note from Mckenna’s Task of Utopia calling for a detente through the focus on ends-in-view over end-states, so of course I think he’s right. But what does this tell us about moral baselines?

Much activism focuses on this question: which currently accepted practices are actually producing injustice? Call it the difference between the obligatory and the supererogatory. Some things are bad, some things are acceptable, and some things are affirmatively good. A lot of people think it’s important to settle where those lines are. In traditional ethics, it’s wrong to kill innocents, it’s permissible to choose whatever novel you like for pleasure reading, and it’s affirmatively good to give to charity. And to motivate change, activists must reframe those accepted practices as unacceptable: their goal is move some action or situation from the permitted to the prohibited. It’s easy to see this in action by simply looking to historical examples where previously accepted practices were overturned.

What’s hard, I think, is to consider which currently accepted practices are amenable to that treatment. Because the key to all this is that acceptability condition: to our grandparents, racial segregation somehow seemed ordinary. It wasn’t what evil people did: it’s what everybody did. And before that, slavery seemed ordinary! And just a few months ago, not letting gay people marry seemed ordinary! Meanwhile, today, it’s fairly ordinary for Black people to get killed for living their lives. Sure, there’s a nascent movement to change that, but right now it’s still accepted practice even as it’s being challenged: we know that #BlackLivesMatter is an unusual, unaccepted thing to say because it’s still not true–even though it should be. So anyone who is reasonably familiar with out policing culture can understand both the acceptance of that status quo and its rejection, and my readers are rooting for its rejection.

But what about the future? Could blogging be someday considered a terrible sin? (Doubtful, right? But maybe it will seem gauche or silly.) You can probably imagine that car driving will someday look pretty selfish, as may eating the flesh of animals (or at least those raised and slaughtered in factory farms.) These are possibilities, live options that we simply haven’t faced. I’d also like to think we may someday find mass incarceration to be atrocious, solitary confinement to be abhorrent, and the health and safety conditions in our prisons to be abominable.

And so the animal activism community is trying to redraw those lines. One version is: it’s wrong to eat meat, it’s permissible to hang out with people who do, and it’s affirmatively good to participate in activism around animal abolition. On the other version, though, it’s wrong *not* to participate in activism around animal abolition. Setting the baseline (prohibited) conditions so high is a rhetorical move. Prohibiting inaction is about making the community more exclusive–just as Scu notes. Communities have the right to do this, of course, but I think it’s where activism can start to fail. This goes beyond the left. You can see similar rhetorical inflation within the pro-life movement and among libertarians as you do among radical marxists.

(There’s also a strong deontic preference to prohibit acts rather than inaction; prohibited inactions run into defeasibility issues.)

The positive side of activists redrawing the lines of acceptability is that that’s how you get things like organized non-violence and other strategic decisions to stick. So if having non-vegans in the mix was a bad strategic decision for animal activists, then it’d be important to set the baseline there. If having quietist vegans who aren’t activists was somehow undermining the activism, it’d make sense to exclude them, too. I can’t speak to that question without more knowledge of animal activism than I have, but my suspicion is that that’s too restrictive.

What we know about social movements is that their efficacy comes when they are able to demonstrate WUNC: worthiness, unity, numbers, and commitment. Unity, commitment, and numbers are always in tension: you need to get lots of people engaged, but you also need to keep them on message. You need to show others that the cause is so important that you’ll make ostentatious sacrifices to advance it, but you don’t want to scare potential allies away by making the sacrifices too great to bear.

Then, too, not all activists are social movement activists. You can be an activist by writing inspiring–and demanding–words. You can be an activist while also working inside of a regulatory agency. You can be a democratic professional. So pluralism–of means and ends–seems to be the most important baseline.

Is the US an Oligarchy?

"Get Money Out of Politics" by Flickr user Light Brigading
“Get Money Out of Politics” by Flickr user Light Brigading

Some things live forever in social media. In my circles, one article that comes up all the time is the Marten and Gilens study of legislative influence that is often interpreted this way: “US No Longer an Actual Democracy” or “Princeton Concludes What Kind of Government America Really Has, and It’s Not a Democracy.

Part of the problem is that I think there are serious political inequality issues in the US. But the study fails to prove it, and it’s been blown out of proportion in lots of disempowering ways. The study is basically a victory for the null hypothesis: on reflection, we don’t have much evidence that policies are determined by a single group.

Here’s how it works: the study compares the policy preferences of four groups: median voters, voters in the top 10 percent of income, business-oriented interest groups, and “mass-based” interest groups. Using data from survey responses, they note that policy outcomes more often correlate with the rich and business-oriented interest groups than with the median voter and mass-based interest groups. Case closed, right?

No so fast: It’s still the case that the best predictor of the success or failure of any policy initiative is the median voter. But the median voter and the 90% voter usually agree. When they don’t, the 90% voter usually either a) prefers the status quo or b) prefers the socially liberal position. And so over the last 20 years, the status quo has tended to win out (in aggregate) except when it is broadly favored by median and 90% voters or is socially liberal and favored by the 90% voter.

A lot of this paper depends on obscuring some important issues behind difficult math. Their R2 is .074; that’s actually, pretty close to random. It means that median voters, economic elites, and interest groups, together, determine 7.4% of the variability in policy outcomes! Almost all of that is elites and interest groups, it’s true! But when you’re dealing with such small numbers, it’s easy to get *statistically* significant results that aren’t actually all that significant in human terms. In 92.6% of the policy outcomes, none of these independent variables was predictive.

That means that no group predominates most of the time, but “US System of Government is 95% Democratic” doesn’t get people to link to your study on social media.

What’s worse is that most of my progressive readers will disagree with the policy issues that the median voter has lost on.

A Metafilter friend who looked at the SPSS file wrote: “Of the 1779 polls, 105 ended up with policy being what rich people wanted and what median-income people didn’t, out of 189 polls where rich people and regular folks disagreed. The only times there was more than a 20-point gap (ie 60% of rich wanted one side but only 40% of regular people did) were the 10 or so questions about NAFTA. The rest of the time it was a slight majority of rich people favoring something and a smidge under 50% of regular folks favoring it. 

Rich people got their way mostly on social issues — RU486 legality, IDX legality, gays in the military, various abortion/birth control restrictions. But also stuff like outright banning immigration for five years, the legality of public-sector strikes, outright bans on military or domestic aid to any foreign country, and so on.”

The median voter has sometimes been prone to serious mistakes or moral failings, as you can see. So the real title should be “US System of Government is 95% Democratic and a Lot of the Rest of The Time the Demos are Assholes and Deserve to Lose.”

Then, too, nothing in their data can disaggregate the top 1% or the top 0.1%, as the authors freely admit. It also doesn’t ask about the bottom 10% or the bottom 1%, which is a perspective I much prefer.

But that means that their conclusions regarding elite domination are even less well-supported. As a progressive I’m primed to suspect that very wealthy interests usually dominate: what’s interesting is how hard it is to prove what “everybody knows.” If you believe in their conclusions, then you should actually downgrade your priors on the basis of this study. Mostly, this is a study that demonstrates how hard it is to do serious empirical work on this question. It ignores selection bias issues like which policies pollsters poll on. (Hint: they tend to poll on popular policies that are not yet in place.) If there aren’t any polls on the vast majority of things affluent and median disagree on, we’d be in the dark about affluent influence. As longtime readers know, my favorite policy initiative is the basic income guarantee, but it’s very rarely polled and when it is polled, it’s fairly unpopular.

So I do think “median voters and affluent voters generally agree in polls” is the most significant finding here. Democracy may often lead to this confluence of elite and mass interests, either through propaganda or elite-deference to voters. Perhaps voters judge outcomes rather than policy inputs, so politicians aim to guarantee good economic and social outcomes even when these contradict the policy preferences that would have unintended consequences. Perhaps it’s even true that the petite-bourgeoisie still finds its class interests allied with capital most of the time. The real victims can’t vote, right?

Prison Abolition, Reform, and End-State Anxieties

Recently I’ve been thinking about a book by Erin McKenna which I read as an undergraduate: The Task of Utopia: A Pragmatist and Feminist Perspective. I read it then because it promised to bridge the divide between my favorite genre, science-fiction, and my interest in philosophy. But the book profoundly changed me, and I’m always surprised that others haven’t read it; it feels like a classic. Using John Dewey’s work, McKenna articulates what she calls a “process model” for utopias, whereby we distinguish disputes about “end-states” from judgments about the “ends-in-view.” And this has always deeply affected my politics and thinking about political philosophy. I tend to think that far too many theoretical and practical divides are reducible to debates about end-states, such that even though progressives, libertarians, and anarchists all share the same criticism of some aspect of the state, they cannot work together. Usually these disputes are bolstered by philosophical and theoretical apparatus. The divide between prison reformers and abolitionists, for instance, is understood by abolitionists through the lens of Foucault’s critique of the 19th Century reformers, whose reforms, though sometimes well-meaning, only intensified incarceration by making it more exacting and effective while empowering the reformers. Meliorists who merely protests injustices or inequities but do not loudly call for the absolute abolition of prisons are falling into a “carceral logic” by which prisons will inevitably be preserved in all their evils.

Where I find McKenna helpful is, first, in her claim that end-state disagreements tend to be associated with masculine utopias, while feminist utopias emphasize ends-in-view (which jives with my readings of the relevant science-fiction utopias, and also of polital theories that have utopian elements), and second, in her Dewyan typology for judging ends-in-view. According to McKenna’s reading of Dewey, there are five criterion (five questions, really) by which we can judge an end-in-view:

  1. Does it promote education and participation? Will the people participate in decision-making and goal formation?
  2. Is it realistic? Does it acknowledge our embeddedness in constraining contexts?
  3. Is it flexible? Can it be modified as new conditions emerge?
  4. Does it aim to develop capacities and abilities, not just states of affairs?
  5. Does it open up possibilities or close them off? Does it promote plurality or isolation? Cooperation or competition? Power or paralysis?

Halden Prison, NorwayThis is where I find abolitionism frustrating: the project of prison abolition seems like an end-state rather than an end-in-view. It deliberately ignores (1) the wishes of victims, citizens, and even many of the incarcerated (all of whom are understood to be duped and epistemically blinded by the ideology of carcerality unless they adopt abolitionism.) It doesn’t start with our current carcerality and work away from it, but rather starts with a rejection of the current context and the constraints it creates (2). It’s inflexible (3) in the sense that it does not allow that some limited carcerality (a la Norway?) might still be reasonable. Though there’s the sense that that is the direction that abolitionism must proceed, it does not currently emphasize the development of the skills and abilities (4) that alternatives to incarceration would require. And though it does aim to foreclose carcerality forever, I do think abolitionists are most concerned to promote plurality, cooperation, and empowerment (5) for some of the most dominated people in our world today, which is why I can’t help feeling the pull of abolition even as the other objections I mention raise red flags.

Meliorism, on the other hand, has all the problems that the abolitionists describe. Reformers work with and within the system to resist it, which requires all sorts of rhetorical and practical compromises. By chipping at the edges and living too comfortably with “constraints” and “realism,” (2) meliorists leave the status quo mostly untouched. We adopt democratic projects and processes (1), but leave the fundamental injustices in place. We develop capacities (4) but usually we can’t create the institutions and conditions (5) where those capacities will be actualized. We are, at base, flexible (3) with evil, and thereby compromised by it, while the righteous know that evil requires inflexibility and even sacrifice.

Angela Davis puts it this way at the start of Are Prisons Obsolete?:

“As important as some reforms may be-the elimination of sexual abuse and medical neglect in women’s prison, for example-frameworks that rely exclusively on reforms help to produce the stultifying idea that nothing lies beyond the prison. Debates about strategies of decarceration, which should be the focal point of our conversations on the prison crisis, tend to be marginalized when reform takes the center stage. The most immediate question today is how to prevent the further expansion of prison populations and how to bring as many imprisoned women and men as possible back into what prisoners call the ‘free world.'”

No reformer wants to “produce the stultifying idea that nothing lies beyond prison,” but much of the rest of Davis’s book is devoted to the claim that reform is inextricable from that consequence. Ultimately, she equates prison reform with the absurdity of “slavery reform.” America’s prisons are historically and in current practice entangled with the Black Codes, the convict-lease system, Jim Crow, sexism, and antiblack racism; therefore, reformers are merely (hopefully unknowingly) fluffing the pillows while white supremacy and patriarchy is maintained:

If the words “prison reform” so easily slip from our lips, it is because “prison” and “reform” have been inextricably linked since the beginning of the use of imprisonment as the main means of punishing those who violate social norms.

Yet consider: Davis assumes that the majority of the increase in incarceration has been driven by the drug war, and that alternatives to incarceration will foreground drug treatment and decriminalization of drugs. In fact, though the largest group of arrests are tied to drug use, the largest group of prisoners are incarcerated for violence; this reflects sentencing differences and the kinds of treatment diversion programs for which she calls. There’s good evidence that the drug war, poverty, and racist policing produce some of that violence, but not all of it. Plus, prison populations are already shrinking, but at least some of this decline is due to the increase of post-release strategies that export carceral logics into a parolee’s (or even an unindicted suspect’s) everyday life.  The goals of decarceration can fall into the logic of carcerality as easily as the goals of reform. So how much really separates reformers from abolitionists? A reformer might call for the restoration of prison education and voting rights, for the creation of schools that teach rather than prepare students for prison, for decriminalization and treatment of drug abuse, for poverty-reduction and racial justice, while still thinking that certain kinds of violence should lead to coercive detention, that restorative justice has dangerous implications when applied to cases of sexual assault or organized violence.

Corrections-in-the-United-States_0442512_21

And we see similar strands in Davis:

“In thinking specifically about the abolition of prisons using the approach of abolition democracy, we would propose the creation of using an array of social institutions that would begin to solve the social problems that set people on the track to prison, thereby helping to render the prison obsolete. There is a direct connection with slavery: when slavery was abolished black people were set free, but they lacked access to the material resources that would enable them to fashion new, free lives. Prisons have thrived over the last century precisely because of the absence of those resources and the persistence of some of the deep structures of slavery. They cannot, therefore, be eliminated unless new institutions and resources are made available to those communities that provide, in large part, the human beings that make up the prison population.”

A reformer sees nothing objectionable in those prescriptions, wants to join with the abolitionists for all their ends-in-view and put off the day when end-states might divide us. When the day comes that prisons truly are obsolete, reformers hope that they will be able to see that, too. But who really thinks that today is that day? Not Davis, who wants to “solve social problems” before throwing open the prison doors. In the meantime, why can we not work together to shrink and ameliorate the torturous institutions we all abhor? Why isn’t the reified distinction between abolition and reform as meaningless, today and for the foreseeable future, as the division between those who want to live in a world where the state withers away (Engels) and the world where the state has become small enough to drown in a bathtub (Norquist)? (Norquist now favors some decarceral strategies: is he an ally or an enemy?) If ends-in-view divide us, we must deliberate, compromise, and fight; so long as we are only divided in our utopias, why not collaborate?