The journalist who gave us the bestselling Fast Food Nation (2001) now investigates selected aspects of that nation’s underground economy.
Practitioners of subterranean economics, CD pirates, gun smugglers, check kiters, and tax cheats comprise—but don’t account for—a huge part of our gross domestic product, states Schlosser, admitting that neither he nor anybody else is quite sure exactly how huge it is. Three disparate essays demonstrate how the off-the-books world thrives with pot, porn, and poor farmworkers. First, the author considers marijuana’s history in America and our government’s frequently ambivalent, always cynical attitude toward it. Marijuana farming, indoor and al fresco, is a major cash crop, especially in the heartland. Judging from these interviews, lots of stand-up folk are in the business . . . or in the clink. Schlosser recommends decriminalizing recreational use while keeping it illegal to supply dope, but he doesn’t fully explore how fostering legal demand for illegal supplies would work. Another significant cash crop, handpicked strawberries, keeps Mexican pickers and California growers in a symbiotic embrace, so long as the pickers stay migrant and undocumented. Farm operators insulate themselves with sharecroppers and middlemen. The underpaid, overworked pickers are defenseless, and the author suggests little to help beyond piercing the operators’ free-market cover. He then turns to the free market of pornography, which feeds nice profits to blue-chip corporations as well as dirty old men. In its present state, the industry was the brainchild of one Ruben Sturman, the Disney of Porn, whose lifelong battle with the Feds is engagingly reported. Lots of dirty pictures and nasty books would evaporate, pornographer Larry Flint suggests, if the reformers would just withdraw. Until then the illicit economy flourishes. Schlosser’s pieces remain stubbornly disparate, though individually they make fine reading.
Three kinds of muck, raked by an adroit reporter.