The nation with a setback ought to fix it, By Ngozi Bell




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Setbacks are things we want to move forward from, tough setbacks require the courage to make the call and the will to make the change!

Let us look at a case study, of Nordic country and the gross act of incarceration.

Incarceration has its place. It is meant to be punitive to those who have unleashed the most vile acts on society. Even in that, a nation must have an end in mind. Should there be permanence in the retribution to be paid or a penance that leads to or gives the option for restoration and redress and eventually re-entry? Many of the Nordic nations have taken the latter approach.

What must never be, is for incarceration to become a tool of enslavement of the innocent or the untried or of target citizens who make mistakes for which others are not even disturbed for. What must never be is to structure a private prison system with the only goal being to perpetrate an industry in search of financial gains for the benefit of a unrepentant few. Yet such is the calamitous prejudice infested private prison system of the United States

Are all taxes equal?

In Sweden, Finland and most of “Nordic country” they have mastered social justice and citizen support. Believing that the human can and should be rehabilitated and that the prison system should in most cases only serve as a temporary hold, doing all it can to host as few people as possible, reduce the revolving door effect that fosters repeat offenders; and instead serve as a place to recompence, reset, repair and release. Using taxpayer money, there can be no avenue to personal financial gain achieved through lengthy, large scale unfair imprisonment. No citizen should grow rich on the back of taxpayers from the demise of other citizens. Such a formula would be categorised as a gross misadventure, not a healthy wealth creation strategy. Ironically it has been hugely successful in the US and made many rich.

In Sweden, where inmates are referred to as clients, they have reduced recidivism from 42% to 29% in 16 years, comparatively US is at 68% for state prisons.

So all taxes are not equal, what and how they are used are also vastly different.

Now to be clear, these services along with the plethora of others are not free they are paid for through taxes. In Sweden, the average personal income tax is 24.7%, for the OECD states it is 24.8%, in the US it is 23.4%. These numbers do not tell the full tax story. Below is a chart that compares the tax to GDP ratio spectrum of four nations.1

The citizen – prisoner and the taxman or taxwoman

The US is in the dark ages when it comes to the idea that a prisoner could be a client with a problem and the potential to be on the mend to reenter society, fully able and hopefully willing to contribute his or her fair share. This is because the US prison system is fueled by hierarchical capitalism of privatization which needs as tools of trade and wealth, “paying citizens” as the ultimate clientele. This is further complicated by a racially volatile system that naturally discriminates against people of colour especially black men.

In the US despite the fact that the prison clientele is overwhelmingly poor, male, black or minority still it is very lucrative for the “headhunters” and businessmen that run these systems. It is notable that someone has to pay them. That someone is the tax payer. Large multi-million and multi-billion-dollar government contracts are issued to private prisons every day, making owners millionaires, profiteering through the trade of screwing over the lives of young citizens by their hundreds of thousands, harming some so irreparably that recidivism is virtually impossible!

Front-to-back or back-to-front?

There is an adage that says the end justifies the means, this might be so in some cases but absolutely not so in the acquisition of wealth. In Ecclesiastes 10:19 it says a feast is made for laughter, wine maketh merry and money answereth all things. Again, telling us that money is a workhorse not a master. We can wield money for good or evil, we can also by reason of the opportunity for money answer both good and bad calls!

So, for the national money supplied by tax payers, where should the architecture focus be? In the end or the means? Does it even matter?

An example of the end justifying the means, would be, provide government contracts to private people to run prisons that house citizens with the goal that some citizens can benefit from the suffering of other citizens. In this model, these prison businesses like many other businesses will focus on profitability above everything else!

However, when the use and distribution of the national money is concentrated in the means through which it is acquired, there can be real social expectations, KPIs that are quality based attached to it. Also, the government could create or require cutting edge tools for monitoring progress and outcomes and strategies to economic development for the entire ecosystem.

It is inherently unfair that resources acquired through taxation of a variety of people, would be made available as wealth creation capital to a few people at the detriment of large numbers of disenfranchised members of society from which such capital is sourced. This does not make sense! It is also not a business model that a nation wants to be known for.

This fundamentally wrong end justifies means -back-to-front- approach is inherently flawed and the outcomes tell the story. A prison system  of high recidivism bears this out. The range of petty crimes for which countless scores of young, black men are put away on long sentences for, is nothing less than shameless and a huge stain to a country that could do so much better; a nation that ought to lead but does not have the will to do so!

The back-to-front economic development approach starts with the premise that all people are not created equal. The intended consequences being, some people distinguishable by race are dispensable and could be collateral damage for the all-important end of illegitimate wealth creation for a specific few!! Ironically, that premise contains within it, the identical fundamentals of what drove slavery, then the institution of racism and segregation, and now a race based disassociated disenfranchisement of specific minority people.

Long term consequences

Newton’s third law says for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So basically, there are consequences to every action, many long term. Any nation, that is unable to leverage all of its peoples and their capabilities falls short of its best capability and performances. It will eventually suffer a regression economically and socially, because like in physics a Perpetual Motion Machine exists only as a hypothetical machine. The ability to do infinite work without an external energy source is impossible to construct because it invariably contradicts the first and / or second law of thermodynamics!

In this same vein, it is impossible to sustain economic leadership that incorporates in its fabric a persistent continuation of unfair gains that come at the expense of state sanctioned human trafficking better known as mass incarceration to create the most lucrative prison industrial complex. A classic demonstration of man’s inhumanity to man.

Today, the US is reaping the long term sustained results. A dwindling domestic population of contributors to its GDP, the world’s highest rate of recidivism and a larger strain on the grossly inadequate, inefficient social systems with very few safety nets for its ever increasing poor, uneducated, and desolate, many creations of a bad prison system. Every nation can learn from this, the – what not to do – is obvious.

It can be salvaged

What is wonderful is that the situation is fixable. All it requires is the courage to make the change and the will to dismantle the evil system and in its place create one that makes all the difference in good for all its citizens. It begins by recalibrating on the belief that all people are created equal! 

Yes, we can, if we will!

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About Ngozi Bell

Inspiration, Hard Work, Innovation. These three foundational elements anchor Ngozi’s core belief that manifesting the extraordinary is always within reach. Inspired by her mother A.C.Obikwere, a scientist and author, she learned the privilege of living at the edge of important encounters and dedicating herself to robust and perpetual learning. Ngozi’s background is a combination of Physics, Engineering, Venture Capital/Private Equity, regulations, and business where she has managed over $1B in cumulative revenue. Ngozi is a speaker, storyteller, and writer on a diverse set of topics including AI, iDLT, ML, Signal Processing, iOT, women, entrepreneurship and more. She contributes regularly to VOA, has been a TEDx speaker and is published on tech and non-tech platforms. She is a champion of STEM, women, youth, art and the Africa we must engage. Ngozi is an adjunct professor of Physics and management with work

experience in Asia, Europe, Africa, Middle East, and North America. She is a founder of a number of a number of enterprises and host of the podcast Stem, Stocks and Stews (https://anchor.fm/stemstocksstews-podcast).

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