For A More Humane Pandemic

April 2020 revision

Including the US, many countries’ public health authorities, their virologists and hospital workers, have coalesced with politicians, citing mortality risks to the immune-compromised, and prioritizing support for health care professionals in a time of ramping demand in many jurisdictions. Together they have instituted an isolation and immobilization policy upon a great, crude swath of the people, now designated “non-essential workers.”

Eager to protect and serve, people have embraced the virologist’s statistical conceptualization of people as disease vectors. People have embraced a sort of altruistic policy, suggested by public health officials for indefinite implementation. We can see this collective enforcement everywhere, as people impose self- house arrest and dutifully sew their own face masks. Police have expanded checkpoints from DUI to immigrants and now the entire population of disease vectors. Parks are closed, corporations and states furlough and fire employees, New York epidemiologists call for Americans to “freeze in place,” and the only people allowed to move their bodies in plague-riddled Milan are people who own dogs.

 

There is a greater good at stake. It’s just not the greater good we think. While we admire the brand of selfless cooperation, there is also a very strong element of inhumanity in our approach to the pandemic. It is very much rooted in a fundamental, Malthusian premise: Our humanity is the problem to be eradicated. To follow expertise means faithfully following whatever lab-coated technocratic policy crushes humanity while, thankfully for the politicians (some of whom liquidated their vulnerable investments before policies were implemented), maintaining and augmenting economic inequality. The issue here is that indefinite detention, for example the prohibition of walking, the preference for indefinite isolation and immobilization, is also torture in a walking, communicating species, which is what humans are. Both policy confining people to cell-like apartments and mortality are distributed very unequally, afflicting people who live in public infrastructure-poor areas and in the US, particularly long-beseiged African Americans.

Yet if we agree with population management experts in law, that isolating and immobilizing criminals and migrants in prisons is a necessary cost, logically we must agree to the similar recommendation of population management experts in health:  immobilizing disease vectors long-term in their homes is a necessary cost. We have a specific model for how we address problems, optimizing the variables of masculine policing employment, maintaining the medical system as -is, reducing deaths among the immuno-compromised, and maintaining the state-mediated intergenerational transfer of wealth from the working class to business owners and top managers. Applied to the COVID-19 pandemic our “health” and “epidemiology” concepts are narrowly technocratic and political;  nonetheless when we say it’s all for health, we think of our mortality and feel deeply.

Governments have offered trillions to compensate businesses for the economic depletion accompanying extended shut-down of all but “essential” work– primarily hospital and guard work. When life is on the line, most people are pleased to pitch in, particularly helping to police and abnegate themselves. In Canada, a Globe & Mail thought leader posed himself a Pandemic Mr. Rogers, affirming that Canadians are “helpers,” and that what helpers do is isolate and immobilize themselves.  But there is more to being a responsible member of a human society, even in an emergency.

 

A better approach is possible in many places. In Vo, an Italian town where an early COVID19-related mortality occurred, the government instead tested everyone and isolated the 3% of the population that proved to be infected (80% of whom were asymptomatic). In a mere two (2) weeks, the blanket-testing and selected-isolation approach eradicated COVID19 from that population. Iceland is a prominent exception to the technocratic-political refusal of mass-testing. It has been mass-testing and select-quarantining to stop the virus in Iceland within a couple of weeks. With its high public health capacity and systematic incorporation of humane criteria in public policy, Sweden has pursued a testing-forward, selected isolation policy to maintain a socio-economy where federal transfers don’t facilitate business to loot the paychecks of future generations. With its high public health capacity and systematic incorporation of humane criteria in public policy, Kerala has responded to the crisis with effective disease suppression balanced with humane supports and democratic freedoms. As the Wall Street Journal recently observed, countries such as Germany, that are conceptually able (via corporatism) to recognize the contribution of their working class to their economy, soon moved onto increasing their testing capacity, toward a testing-forward approach that allows them to minimize population isolation and immobilization. Minnesota has the capacity to mobilize a testing-forward approach, and save its diverse working class and the economy that depends on human thriving.

 

While blanket testing takes state organization and costs money up front, it can be more efficient and effective–and useful in the long run, and will cost less than shutting down the entire society and economy, and indefinitely treating most people inhumanely as nothing more than disease vectors, a variant of criminals, as the technocratic-political population-management model must do.

 

Different conditions require different interventions. The testing-forward approach is not appropriate in urban concatenations, such as Milan, London, and New York City-Connecticut, where for specific reasons of age demographics, culture, and global economic network and transit centrality, COVID19 has raged throughout the population, and spread outward. In those metropoles, selected testing and blanket isolation & immobilization makes sense. Just as Wuhan was transformed into a “dystopia,” in the first week of May New York’s Governor Cuomo announced that New York City would become a surveillance and policing city as its response to its convulsive, central COVID-19 experience. Because NYC is a capitalist metropole, this will create a commercial export industry in antihuman infrastructure. This antihuman policy and infrastructure will be heavily promoted, but must be resisted outside these capitalist criminalized, disease-vector population cores.

Blanket testing/selected isolation would work best in regions with a lower incidence of transmission. The virus has been spread with the travel of business elites. Yet even in seemingly highly-infected Colorado, playground for the rich, testing has shown that only 1% of the population is infected. Regions less central and disadvantaged under global capitalism could move into a forward economic position, diminishing global inequality, if they were permitted to take advantage of their more moderate COVID-19 exposure, by instituting universal testing rather than the debilitating and interminable blanket isolation & immobilization approach that looks best on computer simulations preserving the existing parameters that produced the crisis.

 

Unfortunately, in countries like the US, policy flows from its financial metropoles. In a pandemic, this subsidiarization is not beneficial. It is a lack of regional-appropriate capacity. While global centers have the resources to manage morality throughout, including solidarity with the afflicted, distinctive high-capacity regions like Minnesota have a different responsibility, to always recognize that that the authoritative status of population management and policy expertise not only reflects their wonderful technical knowledge, but is also conferred by experts’ and politicians’ attunement to optimization at the hearts of the global system—misconstrued, in technocratic conceptualization, as universal welfare. Favoring “freezing” the hinterlands, metropole expertise will argue that the virus and antibody tests are not perfect. Yet if the virus and antibody tests are not perfect, in humane-policy jurisdictions like Sweden, Iceland, and Kerala, they have been shown to be sufficient to allow for efficient, targeted virus suppression and eradication—without incurring other forms of mass health devastation, economic collapse and exacerbated, multigenerational inequality.

 

We need to be able to recognize when and where population management detaches from the human, becomes inhumane, so that we can instead support policy alternatives more effective and efficient for circumstances in our part of the world, connected to but also distinct from people in other places. Doing like Sweden, Iceland, and Kerala, and following not just the virological disease-vector population framework and the politician’s population-communications framework, but incorporating Enlightenment sociological and developmental biology perspectives can help us keep our eyes on what it is to be human and what we need to make to support humanity.  In this pandemic, a cost-forward blanket testing/selected isolation approach would cost some percentage of the trillions governments are working to transfer from workers to business elites for generations, where such problems as coronaviruses are caused by already-excessive discounting of workers’ human needs and welfare (Wallace, Liebman, Chavez & Wallace 2020). It would require immediately building testing capacity under state direction. It would require an organized mobilization, redeploying many of the out-of-work legions in the work of testing, or bringing into testing the armies of frustrated altruists within the military. It would be stridently opposed by metropole expertise, because it would be an expenditure of collective resources, and the global financial metropoles will not benefit from either mass testing or the diminishment of socio-economic inequality.

A testing-forward turn would also reduce the runaway risks and costs of universalizing blindness to the multiple conditions humans need to thrive and survive. For all their hopeful public recitations, none of the potential upsides of the crisis will materialize if we are not able to recognize these conditions, and act upon them now.

 

Mid-March reporting held that Minnesota state and private (eg. The Mayo corporation) labs did not have sufficient supplies to do mass testing. This “shrug” reporting was quite common in the US and Canada at the time, and there was little interest in how the state might fund and organize testing in these jurisdictions.  Throughout the US the main interest in this story was exhibited by political partisans, who used it to bicker over which party was to blame for the poor testing capacity. This diversion is part of the problem with dependency on antidemocratic political leadership temporarily patronizing virologists. By contrast, Sweden averted politician leadership problems by having long ago built up an independent public health bureaucracy. Politicians have little say in public health policy there, though there was some attempt by politicians to intercede. Without politicians able to jump into manipulating people’s fears to keep policy choices within inequality-preserving parameters (eg. using police and commercial tech to institute a vast prison landscape), Swedish public health experts could take into account the significantly-deleterious mental and physical health impacts of treating humans as little more than population network nodes, and instead design epidemic interventions that preserve human health. While the US and Canada shrugged at their own incapacities or gave room for politicos to carp at their political enemies, governments such as Germany’s began to fund and organize mass testing capacity.

Mayo is among the private corporations that raced to produce immunization, as, with both state and private markets, immunization is expected to be more lucrative than testing. It could be that Mayo’s for-profit requirements mean that Minnesota, unlike Iceland (which state has more independence from New York), does not have the public-private-sector incentive to produce the testing that could end the epidemiological threat far more quickly than more-profitable immunization. This for-profit medical preference will be devastating to human health and the economic viability of the working class and capitalism itself in the short, medium, and long-term. Did Minnesota public health authorities have the capacity to intercede and redirect efforts? In April, Minnesota announced its public health officials had convened Mayo and the University of Minnesota to produce 20,000/day swab (molecular/RNA) coronavirus testing capacity. Yet the governor of Minnesota continued to prioritize isolation & immobilization policy, barring the public from parks and recreation.

Are we blinding ourselves to our humanity in order to prevent us from “squandering” our wealth on making less-central regions viable, in order to reserve our wealth as back-end compensation for the disruption of existing centers of overaccumulation? Minnesota’s economic and political elites are well connected to the US financial metropole; but because Minnesota also has working class people, from farm workers to small business owners to furloughed managers, following an isolation and immobilization program is not in this region’s health or economic interests. Ultimately, even our friends in New York can benefit from Minnesota pursuing a humanist testing-forward approach, and preserving health, social, and economic integrity in the US.

Our problem isn’t insufficient mobilization. Our problem is that we are already excessively subordinated, as our swift lockdown makes evident. Prioritizing policies that keep the wealth in overaccumulation centers, stubbornly discounting life outside centers of overaccumulation, will reproduce the crisis conditions, because those crisis conditions inhere in dehumanization and inequality. This pandemic, like the epidemics before it and the crises that will come after it, has everything to do with how capitalism in a dense human-population world smashes its giant, necessary, global working class into no economic choice but to reproduce themselves by living off of what awkward combination of commodified and, especially, uncommodified goods and services they can access and cobble together (Katharine Moos, 2019; Wallace, Liebman, Chavez, and Wallace, 2020). Capitalism separates wealth from the working class, but the population is needed to grow wealth. The wild game must be supplemented by poultry. The development must sprawl into field, forest, and watershed. While we clutch our pearls and claim that our expert antihuman policies are for the “health,” the frontline nurses and doctors, the grandpas and people of color, in fact we are living in a time in which a sinister Malthusian presumption undergirds our expertise: In our disposition to maximize the augmentation of dehumanization and inequality both in our everyday and our emergency policies and institutions, we continue to discount the humanity of working people, to discount their economic contribution, to take more and more from them, to immiserate, stunt and weaken them around the world and cut short their lives, our lives. How can we develop feelings about the foundation of our pandemics, so that we can stop reproducing them? Do well-educated Minnesotans have the capacity to break with the antihuman population management models? Can Minnesota put its weight behind testing rather than freezing humanity?

 

For supporting articles, follow Mara Fridell on Twitter.

References

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix:

 

Anglo-American Health Authorities Prescribe Indefinite Isolation/Immobilization:

‘How long will we need to practice social distancing? “For now, it’s probably indefinite,” Dr. Marrazzo said.’ —New York Times, March 17, 2020.

 

‘How long, then, until we’re no longer behind and are winning the fight against the novel coronavirus? The hard truth is that it may keep infecting people and causing outbreaks until there’s a vaccine or treatment to stop it.

“I think this idea … that if you close schools and shut restaurants for a couple of weeks, you solve the problem and get back to normal life — that’s not what’s going to happen,” says Adam Kucharski, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and author of a book on how outbreaks spread. “The main message that isn’t getting across to a lot of people is just how long we might be in this for. As Kucharski, a top expert on this situation, sees it, “this virus is going to be circulating, potentially for a year or two, so we need to be thinking on those time scales.’

Vox, 3/17/ 2020, Coronavirus Lockdowns.

 

Testing Data

COVID-19 Testing Data: https://ourworldindata.org/covid-testing

 

 

Strategic Error Bias amongst Authoritarian Nonelites

Hypothesis 1: At least a portion of the lower-managerial and producer “Middle” working class is  systematically afflicted with an inability to accurately assess power relations and strategize messaging and action.

Hypothesis 2: This social segment’s systematic analytical error reproduces collective action incapacitation within working-class communities.

Corollary: In particular, non-elite subjectivities can be strategically handicapped by an overly-simplified Power Structure and Power Resource analytical framework. The interactional failures this analytical oversimplification produces in turn reproduce an inadequate tactical and strategic repertoire biased toward individual and collective de-capacitation.

The Non-elite Power-perception Error: Deploying an overly-simplified model of power, and importing elite perspectives on non-elite individuals’ object status, non-elite dispositions can misrecognize any individual power as monopolized sovereign power. For example, they can imagine that a strong individual will or passion alone can reliably overmaster and subordinate other individuals in any situation. As well, they theorize inaccurately that when an objectified will does not simply submit to the command of a presumptive Master will, this is because the objectified person is a faulty object. As with other objects that fail to ameliorate human sentience in the world, the resistant person targeted for objectification is psychologically apprehended by the presumptive Master as treasonous.

Psychological or discursive domination can work on a limited scale; but it is more limited than authoritarian non-elites tend to perceive. Psychological domination tends to work at a low hum along, and not against, categories of social status. Its effects may not be reliable or durable. In a complex society, psychological domination is not transposable to all interactions and relations.

Consequent to a misrecognition of all power as monopoly sovereign power, an authoritarian non-elite individual A (ANE-A) will tend to assign to other non-elite individuals (NE-N) the responsibility for carrying out ANE-A’s own personal interests. Probably, other individuals will not serve as instruments for the individual passion of ANE-A, but rather will pursue their own individual interests or the interests of a more-powerful, organized collectivity.

This is because non-elite individuals do not have sufficient structural social power to individually incentivize or impose what is a hierarchical functioning (subordinating others’ wills, converting other people into manipulable objects, tools, hands).

This structured experience the authoritarian non-elite individual (ANE-A) psychologically projects as a function failure, or malevolent defection, of the object (the objectified), NE-N. Psychological projection of harmful intention onto objects is natural (See Scarry 1985.); but the error that leads to the objectification of people, and projection of treasonous intent or incapacity upon insubordinate people, lies in power-relations illiteracy. The authoritarian non-elite subjectivity misinterprets insubordination as a malevolent and dysfunctional (incompetence) withholding of cooperation and credit in a world of fluid but absolute monopolized sovereignty, realized in simple domination by force of personality in individual interactions.

Emergent problem: Because the structured experience of subordination/objectification failure is rampant within authoritarian non-elite relations, incompetence and treason are perceived as ubiquitous in non-elite subjectivity, and so non-elite people tend to lean heavily on punishment as a tool for managing all but ideal patronage relations. This reinforces a tendency toward patronage-seeking behaviour and social hierarchy. Where corporal punishment is inaccessible, authoritarian nonelites will rely on moral condemnation in an effort to break down their target’s semi-sovereign (social but positionally-distinctive) self.

This produces a collective-action problem within the working-class: Working-class communities are bound up in punishing and thwarting each other. Their strategic capacities and tactical repertoires–including Power Structure and Power Resources analyses, negotiation, and cooperation–are constantly bound, atrophied, and stunted, and not just from above. Defection is universalized within the working class.

In capitalism, capitalists are relieved of universalized defection and crippling by monopoly control over resources. Their monopoly access to social power allows capitalists greater tactical latitude to make allies, form coalitions, and collaborate with rivals, while distributing patronage to delegate their agency. These rich tactical and strategic resources also incentivize capitalists to hysterically avoid expulsion from the capital-saved network and fortify class boundaries. Capitalists can be authoritarian without undermining their collective action capacity. This is not true of non-elite people.

Common “ameliorative” interventions in this serious social inequality problem tend to be constrained to moral discourse: Smallholder identity group coalitions simply exhort each other to act more deferentially, validating authoritarian non-elite individuals’ analytical error–the overprojection of hierarchical relationships of command and objectification. Doomed to fail and to proliferate a sense of alienation, the deference-demand “fix” reproduces the class’ strategic incapacitation.

Note: Some theory entrepreneurs have intimated that British Commonwealth or Southern US culture provide superior deference skills–presumably such that prevent, for example, authoritarianism from eroding nonelite collective action capacity. They suggest that a strong deference culture provides a micro-interactionist solution to collective-action capacity inequality, or makes collective-action capacity inequality a moot issue. I think this (often chauvanist) claim can be contested, including with empirical evidence from the Commonwealth and US South.

If we allow ourselves to imagine that non-elites can use their supposed surfeit of time to become psychological therapists preserving authoritarianism, then we can alternatively propose that instead, they can be assisted to better conceptualize power and improve their collective action capacity. Non-elite people need a better power-analysis framework and a relational-tactics and strategy repertoire expanded beyond authoritarian Master-servant relations, however glorified as “deference,” toleration, or accommodation. For a model, elites are not only better incentivized to understand each other as more than simple hands, they are also better socialized to use a broader array of interpersonal tactics and strategies, to work together coalitionally across rival interests. The sociological craft tradition (Mills, Bourdieu, Lamont, et al) can study and convey to working-class, racialized, and feminized people more expansive power knowledge.

Recommendation: To organize the balkanized smallholders, including feminized and racialized contingents, use the television series Game of Thrones, up through season 8 episode 3 (“Battle of Winterfell”) as a resource to stimulate power-structure and power-resources identification and theory development. Like The Prince, The Prison Notebooks, and The Power Elite before it, Game of Thrones is designed up through season 8, chapter 3 as a prolonged, multi-pronged, didactic corrective to popular misunderstandings of power relations. It was built to stimulate power-theory development. More effective would its pedagogy be if implemented as curricular discussion material in collectives.

(Note: After season 8, episode 3, Game of Thrones degenerates into a dog’s breakfast of Whiggish ideology and movie industry auto-canonization. Zeynep Tufekci (2019) recognized the show abandoned sociology for psychology at the end. If you’re the sort who enjoyed the democratic Enlightenment, or even if you’re a non-slaver American, you will hate being force-fed the Red Coat/Cold War moral framing of Daenerys’ clunky M.O. swerve, along with most of the hackneyed gruel you’re served after the Battle of Winterfell. Orly, Sam Tarly is a naive academic, but our True ‘n’ Just King is The Storyteller. Get over yourselves, Renaissance Festival. Truly, neoliberal times blow in terms of moral-fable product.)

The goal of power-theory development and tactical-strategic repertoire building amongst non-elites would be to replace the preponderance of thwarting and punitive tactics–both corporeal and psycho-discursive–with a broader, more valid power-relations analysis and skills repertoire, thereby reducing working-class political stunting.

 

Game of Thrones: Lessons on Power

GoT power-relations lessons are not necessarily encapsulated in pithy verbal recommendations, but rather by examining how characters embody power-relations tactics and strategies, and their effects, as well as learn over time. Still, the character Peter Baelish pivots to advise Sansa Stark, as she moves into a queen role, with an important reminder to remain strategically adroit:

Everyone is your enemy, everyone is your friend… Live that way and nothing will surprise you. Everything that happens will be something that you’ve seen before.” –Peter Baelish to Sansa Stark, Season N, Episode N.

 

References

Adorno, Theodor et al. 1950. The Authoritarian Personality. University of California Press.

Benner, Erica. 2017. Be Like the Fox: Machiavelli’s Lifelong Quest for Freedom. New York: Penguin Random House.

Game of Thrones, seasons 1-8, episode 3.

Kierkegaard, Soren. 1846. The Present Age.

McAlevey, Jane. 2016. No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age. Oxford.

Machiavelli, Niccolo. 1513. The Prince.

Mills, C Wright. 1956. The Power Elite.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1887. On the Genealogy of Morals.

Tufekci, Zeynep. 2019. “The Real Reason Fans Hate the Last Season of Game of Thrones.” Scientific American, May 17.

 

 

 

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.

 

References

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.

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.

References

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.

 

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.

 

References

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.

 

The carceral core

the carceral state 21st c

From Bauman, Valerie. 2018. “Incarceration vs. education: America spends more on its prison system than it does on public schools,” The Daily Mail, 25 October.

It was William Julius Wilson who argued that affirmative action in the US was designed and applied  to benefit (black) elites rather than the people who had been super-exploited in US history, see “Still separate and unequal” by George M. Frederickson.

Adolph Reed was critical of Wilson, but consanguinely argues that affirmative action is primarily used by black elites (eg. mayors) to support capitalist elites.

Check:

  • Frederickson implies that Wilson’s critique applies more widely: Global elites benefit from affirmative action, rather than impoverished American minorities with historical roots in the US. Does Wilson say this, or does he just focus on middle class v. working class American blacks?
  • Does this critique apply to multiculturalism / diversity management as well? Angela Davis and Zizek have critiqued global capitalist multiculturalism.
  • What have BAR, Manning Marable had to say about this, if anything? 

“The term ‘pluralism’ is acquiring increasing currency in our own time. It is presumably the ideology describing the centrifugal tendencies of a society that threatens to disintegrate into unreconiled groups under the pressure of its own principles. This is then represented as if it were a state of reconiliation in which people lived together in a harmony while in reality society is full of power struggles. As a minor by-product of these lectures I would like to recommend that you adopt an extremely wary attitude towards the concept of pluralism which, like the similar concept of ‘social partners,’ is preached at us on every street corner. To transfigure and ideologize the elements of discontinuity or of social antagonisms in this way is a part of the general ideological trend. In the same way, it is very characteristic of our age that the very factors that threaten to blow up the entire world are represented as the peaceful coexistence of human beings who have become reconciled and have outgrown their conflicts. This is a tendency which barely conceals the fact that mankind is beginning to despair of finding a solution to its disagreements.” (Adorno. History & Freedom: 93)

BAR has published Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow (imprisonment) in serial form. Other commentators on this topic: Bruce Western, Angela Davis.

Law’n’Order Corrupts Absolutely

Authoritarian Law’n’Order is by its very nature corrupt and corrupting. Here, law enforcement officers relate how they fabricated drug charges against innocent people, in order to meet Law’n’Order quotas.

…Once again proving that you are a bona fide idiot, if you think militarized policing and prison slavery build-up is a concession to the working class and an imposition of firm, fatherly (or feminist. whatever.) order. The working class will pay for each and every police and prison job through the nose and then through every other orifice they’ve got.

The US Model of Social Exclusion

Here is a link to Schmmitt & Zipperer’s “Is the US A Good Model for Reducing Social Exclusion in Europe?” (2006) CEPR.

Not so much, contend the authors, analyzing social exclusion through the variables of income inequality, poverty, education, health, crime and punishment, the labor market and finally, the coup de gras, social mobility.

Garrison America

Bowles’ and Jayadev’s “Garrison America.”


Ever wonder why Americans can’t say no? 


Here’s your answer: 1 in 4 Americans participating in the “United States economy is now engaged in guard labor–providing security for people and property, and imposing work discipline.” And that doesn’t even count hegemonic policing.


On the Ultra Rich’s Surveillance State.


Remember right after Katrina, when we were told over and over, by people brimming with righteousness, how black people were running amok in New Orleans like fast zombies? (Like how white parents who murder their children claim a black man did it.) Meanwhile, our right-wing militarized police heroes are actually running around gunning people down, raping and pillaging. Then the political-economic elites turned New Orleans into a neoliberal fortress. It never fucking gets old for us, does it.