A vast number of the states in our fine union are facing deep and painful budget cuts, thanks to the ongoing not-having of money, combined with lots of spending of money that we didn't have in the recent past. Education, social welfare, health care—the entire social safety net will have to be slashed. But with a little ingenuity, we'll be able to preserve our prison-industrial complex!

Prison labor has never been more popular.It's a win-win: politicians get to appear tough on crime, and ordinary Americans get guaranteed housing and a job. Best deal going! Almost too good.

In Ocala, Fla., after a long debate, the City Council last summer decided to have a private company mow grass, even though using inmates would have saved $1.1 million. "Our area has been really hard hit by unemployment," said Suzy Heinbockel, a Council member. "There was a belief that the private company would bring local jobs, rather than giving those jobs to prisoners."

The only thing that will stop the growth of prison labor is the fact that the few remaining free people can't get any work themselves. That's not depressing.

[NYT. Photo: AP]