The Anti-mob politics that coheres the Right in the US

Podcast 1619’s episode 5 part 2 provides an example of why anti-democratic, anti-mob politics are resonant in Anglo-America. In this episode we see how in the US South, local bankers, local bureaucrats, and local committees in charge of distributing loans to farmers all refuse to recognize Black farmers, and withhold credit and cooperation from them.

  • This anti-Enlightenment refusal to extend democratic, human recognition has been termed stranger fetishization (Sarah Ahmed, 2000) in the cultural-determinist approach. One could say that Vivek Chibber’s (2013) critique of postcolonial scholars’ overextension of the difference framework–to the exclusion of inequality (see Therborn 2013)– is also a critique of stranger fetishization, as conservative stranger fetishization is adapted to liberal concern with improving capitalist hospitality (hospes, see Pagden 2013:  252-3; 361). The  twenty-first century Ontological Turn in Anthropology is another example of stranger fetishization.

Further, we hear from a cartoonish, hideous thug Southern White farmer who has benefitted from the bank-driven Primitive Accumulation of a Black family’s farm, and is justifying his windfall, while threatening people’s lives. Calling Jordan Peele: Horror has the mic.

Of strategic concern: This emotion, horror (shock), fuels the perpetuation of inequality by aligning liberal opponents of slavery-derived racism with the inegalitarian agenda of further constricting cooperation and quality credit, further investing society in punitive institutions (Murakawa 2014). Warfare factions develop, managed by the two political parties, each vying for the prize of favorite runt to the capitalist daddy. This is a coordinating mechanism for reproducing capitalist American inequality.

Key institutions need to be dismantled and built to clear a path back to democracy in the US, upon democratic social movement advancement:

  1. Infrastructure transfer from antidemocratic to democratic institutions: Deploy policing and military budget and personnel to working with civilian designers, architects, and landscape architects in building quality public infrastructure in former slave counties, enhancing public infrastructure in longtime waged-labor counties.
  2. Reforming anti-democratic socialization & dispositions: Import Finnish education experts to coordinate campaign reforming K-12 education for democratic capacity, including (non-commercial) scientific-craft capacity.
  3. Transfer policing and military budgets into cooperative scientific, design, and carework education, retraining guard personnel for productive contribution to society.
  4. Defund and criminalize national and international private prison corporations. Reduce prison corporation profiteers’ citizenship rights, revoking citizenship from prison corporation owners and top managers.
  5. Amnesty, freedom, record expunging, and resettlement & publicly-funded cooperative scientific, design, and carework education for all non-violent prisoners in the US.
  6. Fund new rural pastor troops to disperse across rural US, compete with business-funded rural pastors, reorganize rural US for democratic development. Fund rural colleges as public, community assets.
  7. Develop and  implement cross-US university curriculum, institutionalized in two new disciplines, building regional, public financial innovation literacy and negotiation capacity (per Pistor 2019), and cooperative and organizing capacity (per McAlevey 2016). Along with Pistor’s other chapter-nine recommendations, the goal would be to build capacity (human capital, incentives) to limit state sponsorship of socially-irrational asset claims, the foundation for spillover regional destruction.
  8. Limit private capital-asset transfer. Institute bureaucracies (with efficiency oversight) for assisting succession from smallholders to cooperatives, cooperative capacity-building.
  9. Make bond-raters an international public institution with multi-jurisdictional democratic oversight. Goal: Dismantle a mechanism of capitalist strike.
  10. Implement policy: High inflation automatically triggers institution of public pricing board, involving a committee including ILO, union economists. Goal: Dismantle a mechanism of finance-coordinated capitalist strike.



1619, Episode 5, Part II.

Ahmed, Sarah. 2000. Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-coloniality. Routledge.

Chibber, Vivek. 2013. Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital. Verso.

Left Business Observer 2019. Doug Henwood’s interview with Corey Robin: on Clarence Thomas.

McAlevey, Jane. 2016. No Shortcuts. Oxford.

Murakawa, Naomi. 2014. The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America. Oxford.

Pagden, Anthony. 2013. The Enlightenment, and Why It Still Matters. Random House.

Pistor, Katharina. 2019. The Code of Capital. Princeton.

Therborn, Goran. 2013. The Killing Fields of Inequality. Polity.

The Forbearance of the Mob

A clarification

When torture was regularly used against exponents of democratic Enlightenment, including Van den Enden and the anti-absolutist aristocratic insurrection in 1674,
when the Bastille, guillotine, and gallows were reserved for their execution,
the assembled “mob” was silent and grim

…rather than enthusiastic (or “bloodthirsty,” depending on your politics).



Israel, Johnathan I. 2001. Radical Enlightenment, pp. 183-84. Oxford.

Where slavery thrived, inequality rules today

More than a century later, some experts say, a terrible institution is still exacting its price.

By Stephen Mihm  AUGUST 24, 2014

EARLIER THIS MONTH, Standard and Poor’s Rating Services, a credit rating firm that rarely weighs in on social issues, published a scathing report on income inequality and social mobility in the United States. The firm warned that current levels of inequality were “dampening” growth, and predicted that “inequalities will extend into the next generation, with diminished opportunities for upward social mobility.”

This unusual report on inequality, like Thomas Piketty’s best-selling book on the same subject, addresses unequal fortunes, declining mobility, and stagnating economic growth as national or even global problems, which demand similarly large-scale solutions. But scholars are also well aware that these problems vary greatly from place to place. Consider a recent, much-publicized study of social mobility by economist Raj Chetty and his colleagues at Harvard and Berkeley. As the illuminating map generated by that study shows, children born in some regions—Salt Lake City and San Jose, Calif., for example—have a reasonable shot of moving up the social ladder. By contrast, many parts of the former Confederacy, it seems, are now the places where the American dream goes to die.

Why is that true? At first blush, you might guess race could explain the variation. When the study’s authors crunched the data, they found that the larger the black population in any given county, the lower the overall social mobility. But there was more to the story than blacks unable to break the cycle of poverty. In a passing comment, Chetty and his co-authors observed that “both blacks and whites living in areas with large African-American populations have lower rates of upward income mobility.” Far from being divergent, the fates of poor blacks and poor whites in these regions are curiously, inextricably, intertwined.

Institutions are Built to Maintain, Automate Collective Action

Slavers Built Inegalitarian Institutions

Instead of chalking it up to race, recent research points toward a more startling and somewhat controversial explanation: When we see broad areas of inequality in America today, what we are actually seeing is the lingering stain of slavery. Since 2002, with increasing refinement in the years since, economic historians have argued that the “peculiar institution,” as it was once called, is dead but not gone. Today, in the 21st century, it still casts an economic shadow over both blacks and whites: “Slavery,” writes Harvard economist Nathan Nunn, “had a long-term effect on inequality as well as income.”

His work is representative of a new, more historical direction within economics. Its proponents believe that institutions devised centuries ago tend to persist, structuring economic reality in the 21st century in ways that are largely invisible. Their hope is that, by tracing these connections between past and present, they may be able to point the way toward more effective solutions to today’s seemingly intractable economic problems.

Engerman & Sokoloff’s (2002) Institutional-econ Hypothesis Explains Inequality and Economic Stagnation

IN 2002, two economic historians, Stanley Engerman and Kenneth Sokoloff, published an influential paper that tried to answer a vexing question: why are some countries in the Americas defined by far more extreme and enduring levels of inequality—and by extension, limited social mobility and economic underdevelopment—than others?

The answer, they argued, lay in the earliest history of each country’s settlement. The political and social institutions put in place then tended to perpetuate the status quo. They concluded that societies that began “with extreme inequality tended to adopt institutions that served to advantage members of the elite and hamper social mobility.” This, they asserted, resulted in economic underdevelopment over the long run.

More specifically, they observed that regions where sugar could be profitably grown invariably gave rise to societies defined by extreme inequality. The reason, they speculated, had to do with the fact that large-scale sugar plantations made intensive use of slave labor, generating institutions that privileged a small elite of white planters over a majority of black slaves. These institutions, their later work suggested, could encompass everything from property rights regimes to tax structures to public schools.

Harvard economist Nathan Nunn offered a more detailed statistical analysis of this “Engerman-Sokoloff hypothesis” in a paper first published in 2008. His research confirmed that early slave use in the Americas was correlated with poor long-term growth. More specifically, he examined county-level data on slavery and inequality in the United States, and found a robust correlation between past reliance on slave labor and both economic underdevelopment and contemporary inequality. He disagreed with Engerman and Sokoloff’s claim that it was only large-scale plantation slavery that generated these effects; rather, he found, any kind of slavery seemed to have begotten long-term economic woes.

Nunn also offered a more precise explanation for present-day troubles. In Engerman and Sokoloff’s narrative, slavery led to inequality, which led to economic underdevelopment. But when Nunn examined levels of inequality in 1860—as measured by holdings of land—these proved a poor predictor of future problems. Only the presence of slavery was a harbinger of problems. “It is not economic inequality that caused the subsequent development of poor institutions,” wrote Nunn. “Rather, it was slavery itself.”

Soares, Assuncao & Goulart (2012) clarify that not race but slavery intensity begets long-term economic inequality

This finding was echoed in a study by Brazilian economists Rodrigo Soares, Juliano Assunção, and Tomás Goulart published in the Journal of Comparative Economics in 2012. Soares and his colleagues examined the connection between historical slavery and contemporary inequality in a number of countries, largely in Latin America. The authors found a consistent correlation between the existence—and intensity—of slavery in the past and contemporary inequality. Moreover, this relationship was independent of the number of people of African descent living there today. As Soares said in an interview, “Societies that used more slavery are not more unequal simply because they have relatively more black people.”

The question, then, is how exactly did slavery have this effect on contemporary inequality? Soares and his colleagues speculated that limited political rights for slaves and their descendants played a role, as did negligible access to credit and capital. Racial discrimination, too, would have played a part, though this would not explain why whites born in former slaveholding regions might find themselves subject to higher levels of inequality.

Inequality-transmission Mechanism: Public Institutions are Stunted in Slavery Zones

The Toll of Inegalitarian Anti-public Institutions Over Time: A Dearth of Public Infrastructure Translates Inegalitarian Economic Growth into Economic Stagnation

Nunn, though, advanced an additional explanation, pointing to an idea advanced by Stanford economic historian Gavin Wright in 2006.

In lands turned over to slavery, Wright had observed, there was little incentive to provide so-called public goods—schools, libraries, and other institutions—that attract migrants. In the North, by contrast, the need to attract and retain free labor in areas resulted in a far greater investment in public goods—institutions that would, over the succeeding decades, offer far greater opportunities for social mobility and lay the foundation for sustained, superior economic growth.

As it happens, a contemporary critic of slavery took it upon himself to measure some of these differences between North and South. In 1857, a Southerner named Hinton Rowan Helper published an incendiary book titled “The Impending Crisis.” Though a virulent racist, Helper was no friend of slavery, and he quantified in excruciating detail the relative number of schools, libraries, and other institutions in both free and slaveholding states, finding time and again that his region failed to measure up to the North.

In Pennsylvania he found 393 public libraries, but in South Carolina, a mere 26. In the South, he observed, “the common school-house, the poor man’s college, is hardly known, showing how little interest is felt in the chief treasures of the State, the immortal minds of the multitude who are not born to wealth.”

Antisociological Denouement, or Even Institutional Economists are Professionally, Dogmatically Adverse to Admitting Preferences Are Socially-constructed through History

Institutionalized Hegemony Can Divorce People from Their Own Interests: Southern Whites Surprised to Find They Benefit When Public Institutions Imposed

WHAT SOMEONE like Helper may not have foreseen is that the abolition of slavery would not cure these ills. The destruction of slavery did not destroy all the political institutions, social mores, and cultural traditions that sustained it. Nor did it make public institutions, of the kind that the north had been building for decades, suddenly come into being.

This notion about the “persistence” of economic institutions is part of a larger dialogue within economics. Economists ranging from MIT’s Daron Acemoglu to Harvard’s Melissa Fisher have examined how institutions and practices adopted centuries ago can shape economic reality. But not everyone buys the idea that the past can structure the present in such an enduring, predictable fashion. Wright is among the critics of this approach; he is skeptical of Engerman and Sokoloff’s hypothesis. “The persistence of inequality per se is a myth,” he says, pointing to research that highlights the degree to which inequality has ebbed and flowed in Latin America.

Wright counts himself “unconvinced” regarding comparable claims about the United States. “No doubt slavery has played some kind of background role,” he concedes. But he sees the relationship between historical slavery and contemporary inequality as an interesting correlation, not a directly causal one. Correlating one variable with another across the centuries “isn’t the same as writing history,” he notes. “If you don’t connect the dots, you’re just groping.”

Another criticism of the “persistence” school is that it may justify passivity. If counties or countries have always been poor or unequal because of something that happened so long ago, what chance do contemporary policy makers have at deflecting the dead hand of the past?

But there is room for hope, as Wright’s own research would suggest. In “Sharing the Prize,” an economic history of the civil rights movement published in 2013, Wright found that efforts to end discrimination paid substantial, enduring benefits to black Southerners. Perhaps more surprisingly, he found that the movement benefited whites, too. Many poorer whites found that that the destruction of the old order—the end of poll taxes, for example—ushered in increased levels of public funding for schools, newfound political power, and a host of other economic, political, and educational benefits, particularly in the years immediately following the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

Positive Affirmations for Liberals

That revolution, of course, is still a work in progress. As we’ve been reminded over the last two weeks by the clashes in Ferguson, Mo., between mostly black protesters and a mostly white police force, there’s a long way to go before the vestiges of slavery are fully and finally made a thing of the past. But this new body of research may help us grasp that solutions to persistent inequality will require more focused policies. Increasing the level of food stamps, as economist Paul Krugman has suggested, might help, but it is perhaps too diffuse and indiscriminate a solution.

Instead, the best way to deal with the lingering effects of dead institutions like slavery may be to create regional institutions aimed to promoting social mobility and economic growth. Georgia, for example, has tried to level the field with the “HOPE Scholarship,” which enables high schoolers with a “B” average or higher to attend in-state public colleges and universities for free and private in-state schools at a heavy discount.

Such programs, with some modifications, could go a long way toward promoting social mobility in the former slaveholding regions of the United States. That’s not to say that the problems will be easy to solve. But the progress we’ve already made, both politically and economically, would suggest that while we may live in slavery’s shadow, we are not prisoners of the past, either.

Stephen Mihm is an associate professor of history at the University of Georgia, and co-author, with Nouriel Roubini, of “Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance” (2010).

This article was published online in the Boston Globe in 2014; but as of 2019 it is no longer available online, so I have added it here. I have added my own subtitles to help Sociologists navigate through Mihm’s disciplinary metaphysics and personal politics.


Chetty, Raj, Nathaniel Hendren, Patrick Kline, and Emmanuel Saez. 2014. “Where is the Land of Opportunity? The Geography of Intergenerational Mobility in the United States.”

(Note for Community Economic Development research: Patrick Kline is the econometrician in this group. He also publishes comparative economic assessments of “place-based policies.”)

Engerman, Stanley and Kenneth Sokoloff. 2002. “Factor Endowments, Inequality, and Paths of Development Among New World Economics.” NBER Working Paper 9259.

Helper, Hinton Rowan. 1857. The Impending Crisis of the South. New York.

Mihm, Stephen. 2007. A Nation Of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men, And The Making Of The United States. Harvard.

Nunn, Nathan. 2008. The Long Term Effects of Africa’s Slave Trades. Quarterly Journal of Economics 123 (1) : 139-176.

Piketty, Thomas. 2014. Capital in the 21st Century.

Soares, Rodrigo, Juliano Assunção, and Tomás Goulart. 2012. “A Note on Slavery and the Roots of Inequality.” Journal of Comparative Economics 40(4):565–580.

Wright, Gavin. 2006. (Note: Berkeley’s Wright is retired. I cannot locate this reference. Might have to email Mihm.)

Wright, Gavin. 2013. Sharing the Prize: The Economics of the Civil Rights Revolution in the American South. Cambridge, MA: Belknap.


Slavery Feeds Inegalitarian Economic Growth, but Hobbles Public Infrastructure, Social Reproduction

There’s a lot of confusion about slavery’s economic impact. Let’s clear it up.
Slavery, as a form of capitalist extractivism (AKA expropriation), contributes to a kind of economic growth–inegalitarian economic growth. As well, slavery contributes to economic decay and destabilization, because it durably stunts the development of public infrastructure supporting the reproduction of both commodified and absolutely-unfree labor.

First, in the recent neoliberal era, scholarship was highly influenced by resurgent conservative culture, in which the Southern US led ideas. At that time in the US, scholarship and popular discourse amplified the tendentious Southern slaver idea that the Civil War was only a rivalry for regional economic control, and was not an extension of the post-Religious Wars Enlightenment struggle over expanded human recognition and distribution of sovereignty. But that economic-instrumentalist idea was inaccurate and anachronistic, a transposition onto the late 19th century conflict of the more recent, 20th century ploy to geographically and racially reconstruct the Democratic Party network, and shift conservative inegalitarians over to the Republican Party (See Delton 2002). Though territorial conquest (wage labour v. slavery) was at stake, the US Civil War was not a contest between rationalist capitalism and sentimental Southern family farming.

Slavery was not battled into disrepute because it was unprofitable. So long as states protected its private property ownership law, Slavery was a profitable form of capitalist extraction. The key to recognizing slavery as a contributor to inegalitarian economic growth is to lift your eyes up from the regional dirt to recognize that both NYC and London banking were heavily involved in financing and reaping profit from the maximization of slavery-based industrial agriculture–both a labor-intensive and capital-intensive form of capitalist extractivism (Desmond & Ward 2019). A valid account of slavery’s contribution to economic growth has to extend beyond the ag-extraction region’s Boss Hoggs to include the profits it delivers to its financiers, usually in NYC and London.

Slavers’ plantations were not the bucolic farms depicted in romantic illustrations; and our Anglo-imperial understanding of the hyper-rationalized Iron Cage, tied to the Holocaust in Germany or USSR experiments, should rather be based on US Southern plantations. It is Southern US agriculture, a form of capitalist extractivism, that was the highly-financed, industrialized manufactury for the big-data, dehumanizing and depleting managerial and surveillance techniques we know (See Desmond & Ward 2019). Not only slavers but Anglo Atlantic finance capital fueled and grew fat on slavery’s extreme level of managed extractivism that pulped humans…an inegalitarian form of growth building to the Gilded AgeSlavers’ rationalization machine supplied a form of economic growth so inegalitarian, so predatory, so dehumanizing that it crippled human capacities (including drastically chopping down human lifespans), distorted markets, and violently destabilized societies, economies, and political orders. It was only temporarily, partially suppressed, under the gun of egalitarian organization, in the aftermath of the world wars it launched.

As is clear from the global history of the 1600s to the Gilded Age and on to the finance-led restoration of inequality and inegalitarianism (the post-1968 expansion of slaver infrastructure), extractivism, expropriation–a predatory, dehumanizing, and decaying contributor to inegalitarian economic growth–is both fundamental and usually necessary to capitalism as a global coordination system organizing and fortifying elites, and disorganizing, exploiting, and expropriating nonelites.

Against all odds, with organized working-class leadership and sacrifice, and taking advantage of global elite disorganization in the conflagrations capitalist extractivism fuels, expropriation can be reduced and socio-economic stagnation temporarily overcome, but expropriation is neither external to nor ultimately optional in capitalism. Thus, capitalism is not a stable-progress social system. As Katharine Pistor (2019) clarifies in her examination of how English Common Law works, capitalist law accompanies and does not replace violence and warfare.

Extractivism Stunts Public Infrastructure

As economic historians have shown in the US and Brasil, the economic depletion resulting from financed, hyper-managed slavery extractivism was not the economic depletion of the planter or financer elites (who tend to be in law and society tendentiously, sloppily, and mistakenly conflated with society tout court). Rather, economic stagnation emerges from the stunting of the state’s public infrastructure capacity (See post “Where Slavery Thrived…” link in References below).

This public infrastructure stunting is still easily observable in counties that once hosted slavery (though the race of their populations may have changed over time), and it is also correlated with human stunting (Therborn 2014), or poor life chances. Insufficient public infrastructure is insufficient support for the reproduction of human life and ecology. Reproduction requires recognition of humanity and distributed semi-sovereignty. Where human sovereignty is misallocated and scarcity is manufactured, life is too cheap, human development is disincentivized, human socio-material requirements cannot be expressed and realized, market signals are distorted, and market failures and economic decay and destabilization result.

As social reproduction feminists have demonstrated since Kollontai (1915, theorizing earlier, see Ghodsee 2018), capitalist accumulation arrives upon a precarious balance of, on the one hand, saleable commodifications orchestrating and exploiting human labor endowed with the capacity to buy commodities, and, on the other hand, expropriation of the unrecognized private and natural reproduction work that makes the fakest of commodities harnessed under private property. Because the base of expropriation must not be recognized in order to extract recognized profit from recognized commodity sales, the entire capitalist system wobbles on over-extractivist tendencies.

The states that arise to secure and service those extractivists’ “mines,” whether those “mines” are natural resources, pollution sinks, or unfree humans, develop to misrecognize socio-economic contribution and to unequally distribute wealth. Extractivist states thus do not produce sufficient public infrastructure to reproduce their unrecognized natural basis and human labour.  Extractivist institutions instead proliferate a culture of predation and trauma, forgetting and blindness (politesse), and depleted, stunted, and distorted human capacities and life chances. Extractivist institutions are skeletal, inflexible, and expansionary, removing degrees of collective-action freedom long after slavery is formally illegalized, and long after it is clear that inegalitarian economic growth is destructive. When they take over a larger society, as Southern slaver institutions took over the US with the 20th century restoration of Anglo Atlantic financial capital, extractivist culture and institutions are exported like wildfire.

It’s similar with other extractivist industries and economies, like fossil fuel extraction. Along with its NYC financiers, the apex extractivist maw of Texas, capitol of both slaver and oil extractivism, amasses rents, inequality, and militant inegalitarianism (including its military supplement).  Extractivist institutional expansion accelerates economic destruction across space, as extractivist institution-importing regions, such as Wisconsin, do not have access to the scarce oil rents that mask and prop social-reproduction corrosion and failures in the recognized economy.  Political fixers and the comprador bourgeoisie desanguinate the socio-economic host. The coordinating federal state props the public-poor regions with expanded military spending and employment.

Does Conservatism Destabilize Not Just Its Egalitarian Enemies, But its Sponsors As Well?

Some scientists, particularly institutionalist economic historians, social reproduction scholars, and ecologists, recognize economic decay and destabilization as a time-lagged product of inequality-based wealth, privation, and privatization (expropriation infrastructure).

Institutionalist economists studying inequality in the US generally maintain spinoff research institutes attracting funding from states and donors upon the assumption that–without a state capable of progressive taxation–redirecting resources to some of the US’s economically-stagnant zones on an experimental, ad-hoc, or demonstration basis, sufficient public infrastructure can be built in those zones to reduce inequality (human stunting) and boot-up socio-economic development.

Note that a key public institution, a particularly flexible, generative form of democratic infrastructure frequently cited in the institutionalist economic-history literature as a socio-economic development anchor, the regional community-embedded college/university, at this historical point has already been greatly expropriated (including privatized), and is still slated for financial liquidation in governing management and political priorities and planning. This continued, fundamental expropriation betrays little serious collective effort to re-seed socio-economic development infrastructure in the US. The mid-20th century capital strike (via the City of London’s financial deregulation and subsequent inflation) broke the US’s civilian surplus recycling capacity (to borrow Varoufakis’ 2011 term). Even while a glance at Wall Street, on the edge of the Atlantic, conveys the impression that the US gathers the world’s wealth, the US continues to be crippled across its gigantic Manifest Destiny rear.

While institutionalist economists studying inequality in the US will not be able to fix this overwhelming tendency with their more marginal pilot programs, their reorientation to working with regional organic intellectuals can contribute toward restructuring social networks, and in that way, can contribute toward social change.

As of fall 2019, most conservative and liberal observers are still betting (including with their pocketbooks) that epic militarization will maintain a functional balance between concentrated, global private wealth accumulation and societal and social reproduction in the US (Mittelstadt 2015), while also providing coercive backup to global private property legally incorporated in NYC (See Pistor 2019). Conservatives and liberals continue to believe that the apex-extractivist Texas model can be universalized, including in all the regional networks that do not enjoy high oil rents.

We’ll see. The deal with militarization is that it redirects (at best) and prevents the working class from organizing to break up the build up of predatory, disorganizing, stagnating inequality institutions and infrastructure. Despite the US’s slavery-rooted infrastructure deserts crying for repair, the military juggernaut, infused with Southern personnel and culture (Meany 2019), refuses to use its seemingly-bottomless resources, utterly fails to connect, let alone integrate its co-opted working class into meaningful life outside violent military interventions. For all its organizational capacity, for all its marketing capacity, the US military cannot organize beyond its function as expensive machinery of death and disruption. As a result, decommissioned soldiers turn to destructive White Nationalism, the organization that most resembles the military in American life (Bromwich 2019). It is a mistake to view this coercive repression institution as a simple social, political, or economic good, an adequate girder to expropriation.

Militarization is not as unconditionally compatible with capitalist growth and regional competitiveness as conservative organizers–led from the 20th century by the defunct Austrian Empire’s Mises, Hayek, et al–have hegemonically claimed it is. As lots of people have observed (though the 20th century academy turned off the volume on the Enlightenment), once the institutions of inequality and inegalitarianism get up a head of steam, belligerent entitlement and paradigmatic inflexibility kick in. Conservative institutions may deploy plenty of surveillance; but they become fatally insensitive to “empirical signals” from their targets, all the morally-excluded “subhumans.” Conservatives may be listening in, but they don’t recognize it as communication about world conditions. Consider it inegalitarianism’s handicap.



Bromwich, David. 2019. “Letters: A Craving for Action.” London Review  of Books, September 26.

Brown, Wendy. 2011. “The End of Educated Democracy.” Representations 116(1): 19-41.

Delton, Jennifer. 2002. Making Minnesota Liberal: Civil Rights and the Transformation of the Democratic Party.

Desmond, Matthew & Jesmyn Ward on “Episode 2 – The Economy That Slavery Built,” 1619 podcast, 2019.

Robin Einhorn on Behind the News with Doug Henwood podcast, 2019.

Graeber, David. 2007. “Army of Altruists: On the Alienated Right to Do Good.Revolutions in Reverse: Essays on Politics, Violence, Art, and Imagination.

Karp, Matt. 2019. “The Mass Politics of Antislavery.” Catalyst 3(2): 130-178.

Meany, Thomas. 2019. “White Power,” London Review of Books, August 1.

Mittelstadt, Jennifer. 2015. The Rise of the Military Welfare State.

Pistor, Katharina. 2019. The Code of Capital: How the Law Creates Wealth and Inequality.

Therborn, G. 2014. The Killing Fields of Inequality.

Varoufakis, Y. 2011. The Global Minotaur.

Where slavery thrived, inequality rules today INFC repost of Mihm 2014, with references.



Method Reference: Lagged causation

Ye, Hao, E.R. Dayle, L.J. Gilarranz, & G. Sugihara. 2015. “Distinguishing time-delayed causal interactions using convergent cross-mapping.” Scientific Reports 5, Article number: 14750.


The US is militarized because it is a global class-contested territory

There are four outlier countries in the affluent world, each characterized by an extremely high percentage of the working-class population employed in guarding property from the rest of the working-class population: Greece, the US, the UK, and Spain. Depending on how you count it, 1 out of 4 (or 5) of every US workers is guarding property from other workers. That proportion increased over fourfold in the US between the late 19th century and today. By contrast, there is only 1 guard for every 20 workers in Sweden.

Brought together, empirical analyses by Bowles and Jayadev (2007), and Gourevitch (2015)  reviewing Brecher (2014) and Mitrani (2013), identify correlates of the guard labour market & militarized police state: 1) socio-economic inequality; and 2) a strong history of class contention. Bowles & Jayadev caution that though these factors, and not others, correlate with the policed society, by themselves they cannot explain the extent of guarding and policing in a society, because in the US, guarding continued to rise as a proportion of employment even in the exceptional, lower-inequality Trente Glorieuses period following WWII and prior to 1975. However, as Gourevitch will clarify, even during the short period of reduced aggregate socio-economic inequality in the US, at a finer-grain level of analysis we recognize that inequality reduction was very patchily distributed (Fraser 2017), and quiescence was even briefer, as the Civil Rights Movement was organizing during that period to more widely distribute novel social citizenship and welfare state protections from expropriation.

Although the state is designed to protect large domestic (and some global) capitalists from expropriation, only white male smallholders enjoyed new state protection from expropriation during the short Trente Glorieuses (Fraser 2017), spurring other social groups to organize to expand those protections and state accountability to the entire working class, including African-Americans and other racialized groups, women, and indigenous peoples in the US. This organization was famously met by expanding US police forces and militaries as warfare, and it was met by politicians with carceral expansion (Murakawa 2014), contributing to continued guarding and policing expansion. Moreover, as we see below, in 1947, at the outset of the Trente Glorieuses, the US cemented in an extraordinary legal regime for hobbling working-class people in the US.

While there are surely automatic structural mechanisms, both macro and meso-institutional, favoring capital and crippling working-class people in capitalism, the briefness of the Trente Glorieuses is well explained by the extraordinary level of capitalist organizing to restrain and divest the American working class of collective action capacity, including by diverting work into guarding and militarized policing, as well as via legal mechanisms (Pistor 2019). On both sides of the pond, of course, deregulation of finance, beginning in the City of London only a third of the way into the Trente Glorieuses, permitted the reorientation of US capital from national to global class alignment, permitted inflation coordination as a form of capital strike, and thereby permitted the dismantling of working class-accountable institutions (social citizenship, the welfare state, public infrastructure) within the US state–converting nascent US state capacity to protect workers from expropriation into military, militarized policing, and guarding property, a Nightwatchman state exclusively protecting global capital from expropriation.

But why did the working class, which had developed independent, leading ideas about the good, democratic society, had been highly organized in previous decades, and had innovated and led policy in the FDR era, acquiesce to this massive state conversion, to its tremendous neutralization and increasing disadvantage? Given its former independence and leadership, why did the working class allow itself to be co-opted into a giant police force merely doing the bidding of economic Masters, circling a drain of decreasing capacity to protect itself as a class from expropriation?

There are intermediary steps to this conversion, and path-dependency can be a factor. However, if we explain the rise of the policed society by returning to the question of Why Greece, the US, the UK, and Spain (with NZ, Australia, and Belgium in hot pursuit)?  it becomes reasonable to suggest that in the late capitalist era, these places may be distinguished as the most desirable combined markets and territories from both a capitalist and labour perspective. These are the contested territories of capitalism.

The US and UK contain the globe’s leading financial institutions, all of the top four policed societies feature brash traditions of conservativism and antihuman repression targeting the working class, and Greece, the US, and Spain contain some of the globe’s most liveable territory, from a human perspective, combined with at least moderately-developed economies and institutions. I hypothesize that what distinguishes surveilled, militarized, policed societies is an ongoing history of class warfare over primo global territory. This explanation has the virtue of also explaining the observed correlates of socio-economic inequality and bursts of civil warfare. Greece, the US, the UK, and Spain are barely nations. Riddled by class and regional internal divisions, they are nations in the sense that they are cemented together by heavy resource expenditure on force and nationalism.

We can return to the issue of increasing guard labour in the US during the Trente Glorieuses with the explanation that, despite the cross-class consensual drive to continue the economic expansion initiated with high state-capital coordination during the war, the class conflict over the territory was not closed, and the domestic police force was being built out of the imperial military post-war in order for global capital to resume control of the territory by 1980. This hypothesis is confirmed by the 1947 passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, and its perpetual institutional maintenance, preserving the absolute rejection of workers’ human rights in favor of limitless, global capitalist liberty in the US. When the US built global capitalism back up following WWII (Varoufakis 2011), it was rebuilding global capitalist class collective action capacity to storm the lands that everyone wants to claim.

Because it’s capitalism, the global capitalist class has secured the hierarchical social order and regulated collective behaviour in the heavily-policed societies. Interesting follow-up project: A working-class Moneyball TM analyst would recommend the (relatively-neglected) best places for labour to migrate to based on attractive features without the Policed Four’s military level of surveillance, co-optation,  repression, thin citizenship, and mounting expropriation.

Though, a Geographic Economist I once knew said that capital follows labour. Could the working class even abandon the US, UK, Greece, and Spain in significant numbers? Or are compensating factors, and the complicating factors of migration, so overwhelmingly on the side of these four lands that the class conflict and militarization of society cannot help but lurch on?

Certainly the Anglophone model provides a steam valve in its repressive framework. It directs social subsidy to capital, incentivizing a large portion of the American working class to migrate into and through precarious small-business ownership (Nail salons!) as an alternative to suffering the obscene state-reinforced class dehumanization and unfreedoms.


In Lawrence 2014, pp. 205-206 are particularly succinct and poignant summaries of the stand-out manacled life of the American working class. The legal mechanisms for shackling the American working class include the following:

  1. Following its codification by US Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes in the 1937 NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp (affirming the Wagner Act), American law denies “the fact that the coercion and intimidation inherent in a threat of discharge (firing) are intrinsic to virtually all employment contexts” in capitalism (Lawrence 205). US law refuses to recognize and regulate capitalist powers, including capital strike.
  2. Preserving absolute private property right, Taft-Hartley section 2(5) prohibits workers from bargaining (contributing information or decision-making to) many issues affecting their work, the business, the community, and the socio-economy: layoffs, plant closings, production decisions, investment decisions, product pricing, etc.
  3. Enforcing “Right to Work” TM laws, Taft-Hartley section 7 enables vulnerable workers to forfeit to state-protected, politically-mobilized, wealthier employers the workers’ own, human collective action capacity.
  4. Taft-Hartley section 8(b) prohibits the following repertoire of worker solidarity and collective action: sympathy strikes, solidarity strikes, support strikes, industry-level agreements or cross-class planning (in an industry, or in an industrial council).
  5. Taft-Hartley section 303 illegalizes sympathetic boycotts.
  6. Taft-Hartley section 301 enables employers to use their superior economic resources to sue and break labor organizations via US federal court. This includes, when an employer repeatedly violates an employment contract, and if the union responds with a strike, the US courts enable the employer to sue and financially cripple the labour organization; and if a wildcat strike breaks out, the US courts enable the employer to sue and financially cripple the workers’ labor organization.
  7. Taft-Hartley section 14(a) provides a grotesquely-expansive definition of the workers who are not allowed to unionize, whom employers can force to serve as scabs: Any worker whose work includes any sort of “coordination” or “guidance” to other workers.
  8. On behalf of absolute private property right, Adair 1908 established in the US the unilateral managerial right to fire any worker “at will.”
  9. On behalf of absolute private property right, Mackay 1938 established in the US the unilateral managerial right to replace workers with scabs.
  10. US law denies working-class peoples’ rights as human rights (Lawrence 2014: 204). The 2000 Human Rights Watch report highlighted how US labor law violates fundamental human rights.
  11. In labor law, the US stands out as preserving property owner (employer) absolute liberty, based on servitude, per American slaver John C. Calhoun’s and others’ influential formulation.
  12. That is why the US Supreme Court features so many jurists educated in the ancient conservative Catholic legal tradition, developed to support warlords’ feudal privileges.
  13. This extreme anti-worker legal framework, treating working-class people as second-class citizens (or third-class in the case of slaves, prisoner-slaves, immigrants, and immigrant prisoners and prisoner-slaves), is unique in the world for its dogged enforcement and lack of modification over the years (Lawrence 2014: 199). It is also probably why investment capital flooded into the US when Nixon took the dollar off the gold standard in 1971, and why global capital is attracted to the US. The US has committed to sacrifice its own people’s freedom and suppress their human development, in order to most faithfully service domestic and global elites.



Abraham, David.

Bowles and Jayadev (2007)

Brecher (2014)

Fraser, Nancy. 2017. “From Exploitation to Expropriation: Historic Geographies of Racialized Capitalism: Roepke Lecture in Economic Geography.” Economic Geography 94(1): 1-17.

Gourevitch, Alex. 2015. “Police Work: The Centrality of Labour Repression in American Political History.” Perspectives on Politics 13(3): 762-773.

Klare, Karl E. 1977-78. “Judicial Deradicalization of the Wagner Act and the Origins of Modern Legal Consciousness, 1937-41.” Minnesota Law Review 61: 265-339.

Lawrence, Andrew G. 2014 Employer and Worker Collective Action: A Comparative Study of Germany, South Africa, and the United States. Cambridge.

Lambert, Josiah Bartlett. 2005. If the Workers Took a Notion. ILR Press (Cornell University).

Mitrani (2013)

Mittelstadt, Jennifer. 2015. The Rise of the Military Welfare State. Harvard.

Murakawa, Naomi. 2014. The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America. Oxford.

Orren, Karen. 1991. Belated Feudalism: Labor, the Law, and Liberal Development in the United States. Cambridge.

Pistor, Katharina. 2019. The Code of Capital: How the Law Creates Wealth and Inequality. Princeton.

Reply to Reader:

Thanks to the contribution of the reader with an institutionalist meso-level hypothesis on how the US (ignoring the other countries discussed above) produces extreme guarding (not including policing) of the American population. Meso-level, institutional facts, such as high levels of litigation or insurance requirements in the US, suggest a couple of the possible mechanisms for how the US arrives at extreme policing and guarding, and nest under and support the above socio-geographic explanatory (why) framework. Logical modesty begs a distinction between identifying mechanisms and inferring causality. (Causal explanation would have to be able to address the factors the explanatory frameworks address: Why have the mechanisms changed in the top four policed & guarded countries? Why aren’t they as important factors in some other countries? Are they as important in Spain, Greece, and the UK?)

Without assessing common incentives and sanctions driving mechanisms, and without even acquiring a fuller map of mechanisms and their relative contribution to building policed societies, collectives could organize to address a couple of the mechanisms–insurance incentivization and sanctions, and litigation capacity, as suggested in this case. Liberal and conservative political collectives do that all the time. No one really wants to stop reformist organization. I only suggest here that identifying a couple of mechanisms cannot be the be-all and end-all of knowledge. Such undertheorized, piecework reforms are a lot of grinding work, take a lot of coordination and a long time to organize, fail to avoid conflict, still redirect and consume lots of resources, and in the end, the George Bush IIs of the world can keep chortling about how they make the world and the underlings only tap-dance in reaction. The hazard of accepting a couple of institutional mechanisms as a fulsome explanatory framework (accepting how for why) is that if you intervene to suppress these identified mechanisms without considering the underlying cause, you’re just playing whack-a-mole. Whack-a-mole may be profitable for lawyers, and it may occupy political wonks and unfree bureaucrats while more powerful collectives make the decisions, but we pursue social scientific knowledge to improve collective agential contribution to change. They’re two types of knowledge with different functions, built for advancing different types of societies: technocratic v. democratic.

Alternative to using technocratic knowledge to preoccupy the staff, a scientific research contribution for an institutional, meso-level analyst would be to run a regression testing those (litigation rate, volume of insurance requirements for guard protection) and other theorized mechanisms proliferating guard labour (such as extent of military welfare/keynesianism (Mittlestadt 2015), carceral growth rate, etc). If a researcher were able to do that (using rate of change data) across countries, that would be particularly helpful towards mapping out the mechanisms by which policed societies are built. Again, that’s not explanation. It’s not philosophy, and it’s not science. But it would contribute  toward science, a collective knowledge, and thus, unlike technocratic knowledge, would not foreclose against democratic development at the outset.

My thesis presented above is distinctively designed to explain not only Bowles & Jayadev’s comparative findings (About guarded and policed societies, inclusive of, but not just lost in the blare and glare of the US. Because they are comparative, they can support more disciplined, valid hypotheses.), but also the work of political historians (also comparative data, across time). As Gourevitch points out in his review of Mitrani & Brecher’s historical work, we can observe the connection between, on the one hand, the historical, high levels of impactful working class (and Civil Rights Movement) organization and the subsequent growth and militarization of policing in the US, solidified into the extremity and comparative absoluteness of working-class repression in the US, see also the notes on US labour law above (per Lawrence 2014), and changes in citizenship law & administration (See legal theorist David Abraham’s work) since 1970. The macro-level explanatory thesis presented here is designed to explain both the political history of militarized policing and labour law & administration in the US, and Bowles and Jayadev’s comparative studies of guarding, as it is reasonable to explain the coincidence of quantitatively-extreme guarding with quantitatively- and qualitatively-extreme policing, though they may have different arrays of mechanisms of implementation, particularly as we have observed change over time and variation across countries in guarding and policing. (Particularly given policing is a state function, insurance or legal “markets” is not a response that can provide adequate insight or explanatory power.)

Explanatory power: The contribution of the macro-level explanatory thesis, here highlighting the relationship between human preferences in geography, climate, and institutional development–particularly state capacity to protect groups from expropriation (Fraser 2017), (as well as aversion to dislocation and loss of financial, cultural, and social capital), is that it supports and guides a number of reasonable, useful consequent hypotheses concerning support for the ongoing development of social conflicts, policing, militarization, surveillance technology, domestic and international politics, racial formation, gender relations, and migration, within the US and similar policed societies (Greece, Spain, the UK).

For example, some of these consequences even impact lawyers. Consider a consequent hypothesis about the spectacular growth of disciplinary student debt amongst lawyers. A fair question that people have asked is: Why do American lawyers put up with that expropriation? With the theory in this post I suggest: Because despite the fact that debt, expropriation, is a major cost to many lawyers, the US still presents globally-comparative benefits (along with the constraint of illiquid smallholder assets): climate, geography, and state protection from even more expropriation (directly or indirectly transferring capacities and assets to financial metropoles). As well, we can add the hypothesis that a litigious market contributes another offsetting benefit to lawyers. This cost-benefit constellation continues to reduce workers’ strategic degrees of freedom; they cling on, with no recourse to voice and no exit strategy. (As well, in the highly-policed society, the voice of the policed is replaced with the sovereign’s voice (See Scarry 1985).) There’s no effective voice for democratic change–it’s bound and gagged by militarized policing and guarding, and as yet there is no substantial defection (exit). So the expropriation– in this case, law school debt– stays. For now, even lawyers are impotent to protect themselves in significant ways.

I also suggest that even taking into account the adverse conditions that exiting the US would impose within the human lifespan (and which Americans, observing, exploiting, and violating immigrants, are very familiar), this individual cost-benefit rationality is not in equilibrium: The structural and political tendency has been and continues to be toward increasing expropriation. In this sense, global capitalists are all the more committed to claiming the hot, policed societies, because they can easily and cheaply mine them. However, that understandably-strong preference (even backed up by state support and a sense of class entitlement) is also a strategic constraint in the changing context of expropriation.


Canadian Sexism


  1. Premise: All societies are sexist in different ways.
  2. Premise: Canada is a highly-urban, extractivist arm of the British Empire, and in addition to its English and French population, the English of which maintains an ongoing, fairly creepy (unreflective), idealist, rivalristic, anti-American nationalist discursive project, its settler population largely consists of the merchant class diaspora of war-torn and industrializing countries. The indigenous population has been highly influenced by this culture as well as missionary Christianity. In aggregate, this sociological foundation influences the Canadian brand of sexism.
  3. Premise: Sexism is carried out by both women and men, though they have distinctive roles in its functioning.

Canadian sexism

  1. Work networking occurs through male collective association contexts.
  2. Females have traditionally served as social reproducers, including managing and conducting a large sector of unpaid imperial social-service carework volunteerism.
    1. The Canadian government protects a healthy number of holidays, assisting social reproduction.
    2. However, today most socio-biological reproductive work also has to be subsidized by other populations, including both immigrants, and intergenerational labour (by grandparents), as the structure of costs v. socially-average wages in Canada is based on working-age (age 20-68) households with two adults in paid employment.
  3. Liberal Canadian feminist identity valorizes a mytho-poetic “Strong Woman” construction, which means a woman who avails herself of some part of the repertoire of rights and obligations proper to bourgeois females, or mature (desexualized/queered) females under state-protected security, including moving about freely in public spaces, particularly while volunteering, in paid employment, and consuming; novel reading and aesthetic appreciation; household, neighbourhood, or poverty management/reproduction; and gender-segregated communicative freedom and freedom of same-sex micro-assembly.
    1. Under this liberal model, and perhaps due to its high level of urbanization, the “modern” Canadian femininity variant consists of  adopting the habitus of flamboyantly gay male culture, permitting practitioners commercially-compliant, aesthetic and cultural appreciation/critique, in addition to more typically-feminized carework and human-relations management.
  4. In Canada, the sexual availability signal is simple, one-on-one cross-gender fraternization. There is no secondary tier of sexual availability signalling beyond such fraternization, for example an additional verbal negotiation and agreement. It is always assumed that one-on-one cross-gender socialization and networking is primarily for the purpose of sexual intercourse. So, women and men generally cannot and do not socialize as friends or work together in a dyad in Canada. A desegregated “friendship” or desegregated working dyad in Canada would require submission to or perpetual negotiation of the baseline Canadian open sexual access expectation.
    1. It is unclear to me at this stage how people of the same gender signal sexual availability to each other, given the heavy reliance in Canada on same-gender socialization to police the sexual-access boundary.
      1. However, it could be an aspect of Canadian sexism that, for example, same-gender sexual solicitation (or boundary assertion excluding sexualization) is accomplished through an additional tier of egalitarian verbal communication that is not available across unequal genders.
      2. It seems also clear that Canadians rely on group socialization and work environments to permit non-sexualized, gender-desegregated interactions. Through group or chaperoned interaction, Canadians avoid signalling the sexual availability they assume to be an inherent property of cross-gender one-on-one interaction in that society.
    2. A norm is a norm. If the prohibition on non-sexualized cross-gender fraternization is not observed (For example, in the case of a cross-gender social or work interaction between two people.), but the female privately and/or publicly objects to the Canadian sexualized-relationship norm itself (in the case where she comes from another culture where women and men are able to engage in non-sexualized social or working relations without chaperones), her objections to the norm are categorically disregarded by Canadians, and she is simply considered a norm violator; to Canadians her objection to the sexist norm is indistinguishable from deviance.
      1. Her only alternative to silently submitting to the Canadian sexualized relationship norm in one-on-one cross-gender interactions is to levy a sexual-harassment charge upon the individual man (“friend”/colleague), requiring the female to defect from her social/professional relationships, and put her own social and/or professional capital on the line.
        1. This legalistic, antisocial, and personally-damaging line of “remedy” is enforced by the community, including women, as the only way to intervene on the norm. They will not allow the social norm to be publicly reconsidered. This approach is in accord with highly-delimited and institutional liberal conceptions of social change, as well as the general devaluation of women’s work.
        2. In Canada, it is imagined that only through such individual “Strong Woman” acts of self-sacrifice, or strict adherence to group/chaperoned unsegregated social interaction, can men’s natural, free sexual being be contained for and within the collective good.
        3. With this Canadian-sexism consequence tree, this incentive structure, the community maintains the cross-gender relationship sexualization norm.
        4. This collective norm maintenance is likely reinforced by its benefit to reliable, predictable, calculable social reproduction, undergirding and stabilizing the market.
  5. As in many other jurisdictions, attachment to a lineage of male protection secures women (a lower quality of) social credit and social cooperation in Canada.
    1. In the patriarchal protection racket, a husband is no substitute for a father. Effectively dispensing with the protection of a father, like divorce or death, an exercise of patrilocality strips women of individual identity and much social credit and cooperation.
    2. While patriarchal networks can provide reduced-quality economic cooperation to women attached by marriage to the network–as a way of directing additional resources to the patrilineage, attached females do not cooperate substantively down or across the patriarchy (as is typical in patriarchies, where new-female blood is expected to relieve senior females of the patriarchy’s highly-dehumanized, super-exploited roles).
      1. The only possibility for women seeking to acquire social cooperation in Canada is through building exclusively-female networks outside the patriarchal networks.
      2. In patrilocality, offspring are culturally regarded as property of the patrilineage. The possibility that the liberal Canadian state could support the outsider mother’s claim on the offspring, and potentially, her removal of the offspring, is constructed as a permanent, existential patriarchal community threat. Thus a female relocated to a Canadian patrilocality is collectively, primarily perceived within the patrilocality social network as a latent existential threat if she produces an offspring, particularly a male.
        1. Although natural to the patriarchal culture, this is an extremely creepy and alienating cultural phenomenon, from the relocated female perspective. She must countenance not only suspicion and barely-suppressed hostility in social interactions across the patrilocality, but also endless assertions of primary patriarchal ownership of the offspring, and heavy, instrumentalist (with an eye toward state appeal) documentation of the patrilineal relationships. While it may incentivize some degree of placating behaviour, patrilineage-securitization also produces alienation between the introduced female and the patriarchy network (both male and female), and depletes trust, credit, cooperation, and recognition.
        2. Patrilineage-securitization in a patrilocality can stress the marriage partnership, as that relationship requires copious, substantial trust; and much emotional work is demanded within the marriage to prevent that ambient paranoid securitization from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
    3. Recognizable, performative butch-lesbian professional identity is respected in liberal Canada as an alternative path to economic cooperation, as long as it is associated with management initiatives exploiting and/or expropriating working women.


Hypothesis: Little influenced by democratic republicanism, but commercially-compliant, Canadian sexism is a liberal-Anglo ideal type.

Social Reproduction Feminism on Worker Citizenship and Expropriation

“Once separated from the means of production and proletarianized, they are protected, at least in theory, from further expropriation.”–Nancy Fraser . 2018. “Roepke Lecture in Economic Geography–From Exploitation to Expropriation: Historic Geographies of Racialized Capitalism.”

In theory, but, yeah, no. Absolutely not. Exactly like masculinity, the Premium Economy status of “free”-individual metropolitan citizen-worker exploitables is always challenged, always has to be fought for, on pain of consignment to the larger class of expropriables subjected to regular state violence. (Knowing your gender theory, see Kimmel 2002, helps with political economic analysis.)

This is what nonelites organized by conservatives know that “progressive neoliberals” serving global capitalists discreetly overlook, in the conduct of their professional duties distancing from and disciplining the mob. Using the White Privilege that “the mob” knows it has fought for, to selflessly usher the Exceptional Deprived under the benevolent wing of protective or symbolic elite patronage, progressive neoliberals appeal to “fairness while extending expropriation” (Fraser 2018: 15). In this sense, are liberal-arts academics the public complement to private lawyers in capitalism–where private law quietly, massively secures oligarchy (Pistor 2019), while liberal arts academics piously, publicly attack unfair advantages accruing within pockets (other than the police) of the working class? Managerial sanctimony for some, little national flags for others.

fight club

Fraser understands that the legally-recognized (cosmopolitan–historically male, European, White, but shifting with the global mobilization of labour, see Fatah-Black & van Rossum 2014, and the rise of global capitalist metropoles) exploited worker has always been a hard-won, probationary status, though the function is required for capitalist value creation. Attaining state-recognized, exploited worker status is probationary because capital also needs a lot more expropriated work. For value to be accumulated by capitalists, exploited workers have to work upon the mass “raw material” of cheap nature and social reproduction, which is supplied by coerced, expropriated work (Fraser 2018; Moore 2015). Unlike capital assets (See Pistor 2019), the capitalists’ state will not protect–fully or durably–worker income achievements or other smallholdings without expensive private law securing it. Where one of Sweden’s innovations was to extend entitlements across the population, “leveling upward” (Barton 1986: 173), antisocialist societies keep the entitlements and rights markets scarce and expensive.

Though as early as the late 18th century, the impossibility of maintaining spatially-segregated expropriated v. exploited labour forces pushed the Dutch Republic to ban slavery (total racialized expropriation) in the European metropole (Fatah-Black & van Rossum 2014), the growth of hybrid exploitation-expropriation status has arisen with “financialized capitalism” (Fraser 2018: 12).

David Abraham (2010) has identified the political mechanism instituting hybrid exploitation-expropriation status: broadened but cheapened citizenship, the dismantling of social citizenship rights and institutions, along with the expansion and intensification of imperial disruption and population relocations, what in “progressive neoliberal” hands becomes the Dem Party’s Open Borders politics.

Like all progressive neoliberalism, Open Borders TM is a late-hour emergency reversal, a pious optical roll back from the deluge of neoliberal policies that have landed at grotesque expropriation visuals: ICE’s concentration camps for immigrant babies. The left hand of the conservatize-liberal Dem party suggests decriminalizing immigrants–great! But the more consistent, dominant right hand of the political party continues to follow Mises’ and Hayek’s Viennese Chamber of Commerce model, replacing national sovereignty with global capitalist sovereignty (Pistor  2019, Ch. 6; Slobodian 2018; Zevin 2019)–that is, diminishing citizenship rights, facilitating expropriation universally: criminalization of the rest of marginalized life (and in capitalism, marginalized life is a lot of life), for-profit slave-labour prisons throughout the Anglosphere, and disruptive, dislocating war abroad. There’s more than one way to skin the people alive. (That said, I wish the Justice Democrats well. May they slap down–and impale with a wooden cross–the dead right hand of the Slaver County-Wall St. Dem bloc.)

Why is N. Fraser so necessary and relevant today? After a three-year application process, I got citizenship in a country where to get citizenship (qualifying for legalized exploitation, as opposed to violent expropriation, but downgraded to hybrid exploitation-expropriation in the financialist restoration) you have to swear allegiance to the British monarchy. Canadian citizenship remains both colonial and Burkean:

Society is indeed a contract…between those who are living (and) those who are dead…So far is it from being true that we acquired a right by the Revolution to elect our kings that, if we had possessed it before, the English nation did at that time most solemnly renounce and abdicate it, for themselves and for all their posterity forever” (Burke, 1790).

Apparently, lots of new settlers aren’t down with this reactionary 1790 social contract, however symbolic (How does this even work in Quebec? Headscarf law, I guess.); so in the official ritual, the Canadian citizenship induction team makes a point of threatening the inductees and then monitoring them to ensure they swear fealty to the British monarchy, instead of mumbling The Internationale or La Marseillaise or even Elizabeth Bishop’s The Moose under their breath.

After a lot of official chit-chat about The Greatest Nation(-state) on Earth and how it requires unpaid labour (voluntarism), a citizenship inductee can volunteer to speak about what Canadian citizenship means to her. A young woman from Africa was introduced, got up, and gave a cheerful speech about how Canadian citizenship means that everyone in that room can now finally avoid Canadians expropriating them. She went over the varieties of expropriation line item by line item.

It was a super-instrumentalist account of what citizenship means, and, since no capitalist could object to it on ideological grounds, but it was a far cry from the conservative-liberal idealist bath we’d just been given, her assertion of imperial reality was kind of a subtly-subversive move. I appreciated the new citizen’s initiative.

On the other hand, it’s hard to be totally reassured: Canadian citizenship policy and Burkean discourse channel the real financialized-imperialism experience of unequal, inegalitarian, and predatory class and state relations into an “I got mine” discourse of individualist instrumentalism. Here’s hoping the liberal exhortations to volunteer and “be friends” with indigenous Canada somehow keep the back cellar door open for the internationalist-organization way out of this global rentier-capitalist, conservative-liberal Forever Home.

Naturally, the same citizenship team that had threatened and monitored us to swear loyalty to the British royalty was a bit nonplussed. “I expect you’ll take my job!” the exquisitely-cast, good-looking, Metis, pompadour-dyke-hair judge slipped out of character, as the new citizen wrapped up her oration and returned to her seat.


Abraham, David. 2010. “America, Germany, Israel: Three Modes of Citizenship and Incorporation.” International Labour and Working-class History 78: 123-128.

Barton, H.A. 1986. Scandinavia in the Revolutionary Era, 1760-1815. University of Minnesota.

Burke, Edmund. 1790. Reflections on the Revolution in France.

Fatah-Black, Karwan & Matthias van Rossum. 2014. “Slavery in a ‘Slave-free Enclave’?: Historical Links between the Dutch Republic Empire and Slavery, 1580s-1860s.” Werkstatt Geschichte 66-67: 55-73.

Federici, Silvia. 2019. “From Crisis to Commons,” pp. 175-187 in Re-enchanting the World: Feminism and the Politics of the Commons. PM Press.

Fraser, Nancy. 2018. Roepke Lecture in Economic Geography–From Exploitation to Expropriation: Historic Geographies of Racialized Capitalism.” Economic Geography 94(1): 1-17.

Kimmel, Michael S. 2002. “Masculinity as Homophobia: Fear, Shame, and Silence in the Construction of Gender Identity.”

Meiksins-Wood, Ellen. 2014. “Capitalism’s Gravediggers,” Jacobin.

Pistor, Katharina. 2019. The Code of Capital: How the Law Creates Wealth and Inequality. Princeton.

Slobodian, Quinn. 2018. Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism. Harvard.

Zevin, Alexander. 2019. “Every Penny a Vote.” Pp. 27-30 in the London Review of Books, 15 August.