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.

 

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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.

 

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.

References

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. https://www.lrb.co.uk/v41/n16/alexander-zevin/every-penny-a-vote.

 

 

Roaming Rights Now!

Over the last couple of years there have been books and bills introduced to establish Roaming Right in Anglo-American jurisdictions. Roaming Rights were denied in the colonies on the grounds that indigenous people had to be cleared from the land to make way for colonial extraction. As contested as they were and are, Roaming Rights were established for indigenous populations in treaties between colonial and indigenous governments, however.

The racist, colonial denial of universal Roaming Right in Anglo-American law produces an unjust conflation between private land required for living, such as a house, a yard, and a garden, and mass-acreage land privately owned, for example in land speculation, for the accumulation of social power over other citizens, rival rentier capitalists, and global markets. In Marxist terms, this (im)moral conflation reflects the power-blind liberal conflation of capitalist use value–profit–with general use values, which legitimates sovereign-consumer and consumer-market choice arguments, private monopoly and collusion, corporate deregulation, inequality, and general capitalist Best of All Possible Worlds assumption/argumentation. Under this ruling and codified conceptual conflation, even homes have been used in apartheid settler societies not for shelter (use value), a necessary minimal condition of health, enjoyment and development, but as assets (capital) permitting Whites and global economic victors to claim intergenerational wealth over, power over, and capacity to exclude Blacks and smallholders.

This conceptual blindness is the vehicle through which inequality produces inegalitarianism, despite liberalism’s formal subscription to the former and proscription of the latter. While it brings liberalism to coalesce with conservatism, liberalism’s formal separation of inequality and inegalitarianism keeps liberalism able to co-opt the exhausted portions of its egalitarian opposition, and better able to maintain law; in this way, while it’s less immediately appealing than conservative exceptionalism, liberalism can ultimately outcompete raw conservatism, devoted to inequality, inegalitarianism, and exceptionalism. Or, liberalism and conservatism together create a system-stabilizing oscillation of strategies that pragmatists and true-believers alike can insert themselves into.

Because of this lack of conceptual distinction, for a long time, the incapacity to recognize a public interest in cross-population, sustainable use of land and water supported an inegalitarian elite-settler coalition dedicated to absolute, exclusive private property in liberal societies. This institutionalized blindness to public interest, this inegalitarianism can be observed every day in financial apartheid advertisements for gated rural and suburban property and Poor Door urban real estate property, in excluding curtains and punitive air travel policies corralling most travelers, and in the enduring public goods and services poverty of historical slavery counties. It sustains a socialized inability to distinguish depletion activities on land and water from sustainable activities. This apartheid-society conceptual incapacity was useful for establishing colonies as premier global sites of unfettered resource extraction and unfree labor exploitation and expropriation.

Restoring Collective-action Capacity and Freedom in Rural Tributaries

In the latter-day context of global monopoly capitalism, with its institutionalized wealth cores and tributary peripheries, these conceptual incapacities, codified in law, strongly undermine the freedom and reproductive capacity of non-elite, smallholder settlers. It is another case where in the multi-generational run, non-elite settlers would have been better off in coalition with peasantified indigenous people and enslaved workers than serving as grunts for elite colonial interests, under the hope that their own patrimony would be protected, not by a politically- and socially-constructed status such as citizenship, but by a magical, mythical identity conferred only at elite convenience–White Ownership.

To start off with, as discussed above, smallholders’ interests–in securing living space and life enjoyment in balance with others–are not reducible to or stably, largely compatible with mass-property owning rentier-capitalists’ interests in mining wealth for the exclusive, advantageous accumulation of social power and control over other citizens, over rival rentier capitalists, and over global markets. Whiteness politics are the result of a naive, excessive belief in the munificence and durability of economic elites’ instrumentalist marketing campaigns. But as the recent mass primitive accumulation of New Zealand, the Canadian West, and particularly the US West demonstrate, even Christian Texan billionaires–raised as Masters of Whiteness sacralization and politics–will not maintain White coalition in all those places where non-Whites have already been cleared from the land (Turkewitz 2019). If you cannot count on even Evangelical Texas oil-extractionist billionaire patriarchs for White protection, do you think it’s a good social contract option for you to buy into?

As a mystical moral exclusion, a promise of inclusion in an exclusive coalition with ruthless, teeth-baring elites, the White political construction was always designed to be land-owning elites’ paw of control over a traumatized, fearful population, for elites’ own political benefit, if variably distributing lesser resources to a malleable “White” “police” force. The broad Whiteness elite-“police” coalition is easily scrapped–in England, but just as well in the militarized, surveillance-embedded settler colonies–in favor of the narrower elite-police employer relationship in Nightwatchman societies. Today’s capital-intensive, tech-addled Nightwatchman policing relationship with exclusive, absolute, mass private property severely curtails non-elite freedom and enjoyment–from snowmobiling to fishing to hunting, to cross country skiing, mushroom gathering, forest bathing, walking, clean-water swimming, stargazing, fresh air, and so on–outside of capitalism’s expensive urban metropole commodity market.

Roaming Right & Freedom of Movement, Right of the “Starving” Man in an Excluding, Privatized World Economy

In Europe, Roaming Rights were codified in law in the mid-20th century (In England, they were codified in liberal law in 2001). They distinguish the exclusionary space needed for living–the yard, garden, house, barn, garage–from the larger, decommodified space required for people, the public, to both modestly supplement private life and enjoy sustainable use of the political-territory’s land: hiking, fishing, swimming, boating, horse watering, berry gathering, and camping rights, etc. Roaming Rights assume that people are living, reproducing, developing Earthlings, and therefore the public needs to traverse–move freely–and enjoy life in a social, balancing, non-depleting manner. This assumption is not shared by property right law, built for perpetual conquering (See the influential, founding formulations of property right and its underlying assumptions, forwarded by liberal-conservative theorists including Hobbes, Grotius, and Burke’s later reconciliation with capitalist liberalism, etc.). Roaming Right corrects property right and its antihuman excesses.

Organizing for Roaming Rights is important in the settler colonies today because inequality has grown to the point where settlers are financially excluded from global rentier capitalism’s metropoles, while at the same time they are losing access to the dispersed resources required to live and enjoy life in the tributary regions. In this context, tributary settler-indigenous coalition is vital. After all, and all pretty mystifications aside, how are indigenous people made? Indigenous people are not another, animal-like species or colorful otherworldly visitation, as political discourse has predominantly constructed them. Whatever their history and culture, the indigenous have been repeatedly constructed, and will be made out of the raw material of people again, by imperialists prohibiting indigenous people’s free movement and access to the necessities and enjoyment of life outside of inaccessible, commodified, commercial cities. Race is network boundary construction, and it’s not been as tight or class-distinguishing a boundary as wealth accumulators prefer. Today’s FIRE (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate industry) and surveillance and military tech do the exact same function, tighter.

Every capitalist elite is afraid of working class settlers and smallholders recognizing that they can be made indigenous or enslaved. To some extent this is an honest, liberal fear, because many smallholding settlers have, with but a little elite threat/encouragement, moved from that sociological, historical realization to “Better you than me” imperial warfare against indigenized people, the enslaved, and descendents thereof (See Wilson 1976).

But that honest fear has always been in coalition with the much more self-interested elite fear that other smallholding settlers will coalesce politically with the indigenized, the enslaved, and their descendants. By suppressing non-elite organic intellectuals, we have hardly come to terms with this liberal-conservative elite coalition, the imperial “civilized” bloc, and its ravaging effects.

Instead, apartheid society is fed a nonstop stream of conservative and liberal high and low cultural enforcement, cementing us apart along the difference-justice telos: Whites must know only their unjust, isolated historical place. Reified, stylized, Black positionality, Black Exceptionalism will carry difference justice (as that is reduced to liberal Dem Party political rentier strategy). In the UK, this quasi-historical (permitting recognition of heritage, but prohibiting recognition of ongoing social construction, social reproduction) cultural pseudo-speciation is further reinforced through regional class distinctions.

The Primitive Accumulation of the US West in the 21st Century

From Turkewitz 2019: “In the last decade, private land in the United States has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few. Today, just 100 families own about 42 million acres across the country, a 65,000-square-mile expanse, according to the Land Report, a magazine that tracks large purchases. Researchers at the magazine have found that the amount of land owned by those 100 families has jumped 50 percent since 2007.”

The fracking-lord Wilks brothers “who now own some 700,000 acres across several states, have become a symbol of the out-of-touch owner. In Idaho, as their property has expanded, the brothers have shuttered trails and hired armed guards to patrol their acres, blocking and stymying access not only to their private property, but also to some publicly owned areas…The Wilks brothers see what they are doing as a duty. God had given them much, Justin said. In return, he said, “we feel that we have a responsibility to the land.”

“Gates with “private property” signs were going up across the region. In some places, the Wilkses’ road closings were legal. In other cases, it wasn’t clear. Road law is a tangled knot, and Boise County had little money to grapple with it in court. So the gates stayed up.

…The Wilks family hired a lobbyist to push for a law that would stiffen penalties for trespass…

The problem, said Mr. Horting, “is not the fact that they own the property. It’s that they’ve cut off public roads.”

“We’re being bullied,” he added. “We can’t compete and they know it” (Turkewitz 2019).

As well, financial institutions started dispensing with land titling a few years ago, so in the post-2007 property grab, claims on property are going to fall to might rather than right. It’s a new mass primitive accumulation offensive.

Climate Crisis, Unproductive Capital, & Elite Rentier Strategy

While they let their Republican henchmen lull the peasantry with squeals of “No climate crisis” for decades, billionaire rentier capitalists shifted quietly into land-capturing overdrive.

“Brokers say the new arrivals are driven in part by a desire to invest in natural assets while they are still abundant, particularly amid a fear of economic, political and climate volatility.

‘There is a tremendous underground, not-so-subtle awareness from people who realize that resources are getting scarcer and scarcer,’ said Bernard Uechtritz, a real estate adviser” (Turkewitz 2019).

The Persistent Role of Moralism in Expropriation

Moving into extractive fracking from a Texas religious franchise, the Wilks Bros provide a strong example of how extractivism and expropriation is buttressed by moralism.

While buying political and legal cover, they continually assert that their antisocial land speculation offensive is mandated by God, sacralizing their self-interested conflation of smallholder living space with their own, exclusionary mass capture of land.

Expropriative, Gilded-Age Restoration: Separating Out Global Rentier Capitalists’ Interests from Smallholder Interests

TBD

The Urbanite’s Interest in Roaming Right

Why would an urbanite care about Roaming Right? After all, urbanites are precisely the people who have forfeited Roaming Right in favor of obtaining all their life reproduction needs and enjoyment through the concentrated commodity market of the city, and by proximity to self-interested elite infrastructure. As Mike Davis and Cedric Johnson (2019) clarify, the cosmopolitan eschews the public. Relatedly, the condition of inequality-restoration urbanity, the engine of global monopoly capitalism, is the denial of capitalism’s reproductive dependence upon its sea of expropriation. A city is built on legalized, overlapping claims on future wealth creation, but the ingredients to that wealth creation are not exclusively to be found in the city.

Urban intellectuals and social workers recognize that denial extremely partially, as “gentrification.” Those who cannot live on 100% commodified life, the poor, are removed out of sight from the metropole. Yet at the same time, within and across borders, the tributary countryside is enclosed by global billionaires, and the people in that periphery are shoved to the smallholding margins, left without wealth, without access to fully-commodified life (which affordability, which wage-consumption urban economy depends on rural decommodifications, cheap inputs), or access to non-commodified life reproduction or enjoyment. They are expelled, set marching, set reeling. We admire how they’ve chosen us when they alight amongst us to serve us. Or we demand to speak to the manager. As in past Primitive Accumulation offensives, itinerancy is criminalized, and imperial militarization and an international for-profit carceral industry rages like a climate-crisis Firenado.

In this context, wouldn’t it be more natural, an efficient division of political labor, for urbanites to focus on getting Democrats (or Liberals or NDP) elected to office? Meanwhile urbanites can wait for deprived, low-density rural populations to organize their own solution to their desperate lives. After all, in those moments when those rural folks were organized and slightly-patronized by big owners (See Wilson 1976), they should have seen the limits of the inequality coalition…like wage-earning urbanites do? Something seems to be impeding organization. Perhaps, just perhaps, it’s that massive surveillance, policing, and carceral apparatus (Johnson 2019).

Cities depend on tributaries for most of the raw materials of life bought on the urban market. As well, they depend on using the countryside as an urban waste sink. A pervasive lack of recognition of the non-autonomy of the city, urban commodity fetishism, including imagining the enjoyments–museums, libraries, bars and restaurants, dance venues, art galleries, theatres, orchestras, ballet troupes, poetry nights, etc.–as the sui generis private-collective property of the city, the lack of  conceptualization of how the cheap raw-material market goods come to appear in the city and how wastes disappear from the city, leads to pervasive political mis-analysis.

If cosmopolitans around the world want to stop being ruled by Donald Trump and like politicians, if they want to enjoy the free expression of their cosmopolitan merit, they need to use their geographic concentration as an organization asset to break down the marginalization, the peasantification of the countryside domestic and international, the remnant alignment between rural -tributary smallholders and global rentier capitalists–particularly in an unfree time in which those rentier capitalists are aggressively excluding rural settlers from enjoyable rural life and yet inequality, including tight metropole police exclusion of indigents, prohibits mass rural-urban mobility.

museum display

Artwork by Fernando Garcia-Dory & Amy Franceschini

As beholden as their enjoyment and their identities are to FIRE (Finance Insurance Real Estate capital) patronage and cheap commodity inputs and waste sinks, urbanites need to organize, to reconstruct a smallholder Red-Green alliance traversing the urban-rural divide, and taming private property right, as Swedes did at the turn of the Twentieth Century to establish an effective, semi-independent social democracy. Roaming Right is a great coalition vehicle for such a democratic realignment and legal revolution. City people should use their structurally-superior communication and organization capacity to reach out and help rural people–across race and gender–to secure–but not mine–the non-commodified world they need to live and enjoy themselves, through universal Roaming Right. Recognizing that the past half century of rural expulsions transcends national boundaries, Red-green political coalition could be the “close to home” foundation of internationalist capacity, rather than mere consumption cosmopolitanism.

 

You Are What You Enjoy: Identity, Alienation, & Inegalitarianism in Capitalism

TBD

 

Bibliography

 

Greens of British Columbia. 2017. “Weaver introduces Right to Roam Act.”

Ilgunas, Ken. 2018. This land is our land: How we lost the right to roam and how to take it. Plume Press.

Johnson, Cedric. 2019. “Black political life and the Blue Lives Matter Presidency.” Jacobin, February 17.

Turkewitz, J. 2019. “Who gets to own the West?The New York Times, June 22.

Wikipedia. “Freedom to Roam.”

Wilson, William Julius. 1976. “Class conflict and segregation in the Postbellum South.” Pacific Sociological Review 19 (4): 431-446.

Policy Proposal: Develop Alternative Paths from University for Immigrants Who Aren’t Scholars

Political Economic Context for the Policy of Immigration through Universities in the Anglosphere under Financial and Military Rule

Population growth is a requirement in societies dedicated to aggregate (undistributed) economic growth. Much as Anglo-American societies place far less emphasis on fostering developmental conditions than attracting, hosting, and taking a cut of wealth from around the globe, Anglo-American Settler societies continuously reproduce vulnerable, disrupted labor via import, immigration, not biological reproduction, which risks a working class with contributory claims on the wealth global elites are trying to amass and store. Functionally self-perpetuating, the Anglo-American empire requires continuous mass-disruption and dislocation of populations in strategic regions; thus, the US military functionally produces via war that traumatized migration central to the liberal Anglo social model’s growth objective. Culturally, liberal Anglo societies discount the reproduction of human capital in favor of reproducing working classes with weaker contributory claims; they discount human capital’s role in technological innovation, and they discount technological innovation as an engine of growth, in favor of raw, mass wealth accumulation and the capacity to dismantle rivalry and upstarts (See Gordon 2016).

With the restoration of financial leadership in the Anglosphere and the militarization of American society, financial and militarized policing interests have increasingly come to determine who will deal with the process of immigration to minimize the costs of migration and immigration to financial accumulation and the US’s other main work– surveillance, Military “Keynesianism,” and warfare. It is financial metropoles like the City of London and New York City that produce the accumulation-focused policy templates replicated–often irrationally–throughout its tributaries, from repurposing housing and urban infrastructure into a real estate repository for global elites’ surfeit wealth, to repurposing Trente Glorieuses social citizenship institutions like the build-up of university infrastructure from mass human development to commercial R&D and direct business subsidy, as well as immigration processing.

Universities as migration institutions is a policy and institutional incentive system that looks like it might make sense from a distance, but has a lot of fundamental structural flaws that the “front-line service workers” (as Anglo policymakers construct professors) are left to jury-rig in the 100-hour workdays (in the alternate reality of policy-makers’ minds) of teachers and professors/researchers and other atavistic remnants of democratic institutions. In Commonwealth regions that adopt the finance-oriented City of London’s policy models, including processing immigration through universities, professors can manage neither their own departments (This is optimal from the professional management interest.)–nor their own workloads (This incapacity to be accountable is suboptimal even from a professional managerial perspective). This dysfunction operates to the extent that the material professors are provided to evaluate students for admissions has been found to be mostly fraudulently produced, and inaccurately represents the students’ actual capacity or propensity for education and scholarly work. In such regimes, there is little fit between immigrants and universities. Nonsensically, the responsibility for this lack of fit is downloaded onto individual professors; perhaps it will eventually drift to departments or university management, who will doubtless attempt to implement more surveillance software on employees.

Should professors be saddled with the responsibility for making universities fit immigration, since universities are generally about finishing up adult newcomers, polishing them up for market and social contribution, and this is a many-faceted task? From the professor’s perspective, undergrad education is something of a gong show; but universities have always played an adult-transition “governess” role, among the many functions that have been delegated to universities. This great social contribution, like any such indispensable, feminized, developmental social reproduction work, is readily discounted in liberal Anglo culture–particularly as it reproduces non-elites and their work, versus directly reproducing elites and wealth. So by undertaking this important, complex work, professors, educators and researchers consequently can be portrayed as doing nothing in Anglo liberal cultures. But it is in recent years that Anglo-American politicians and university managers have coalesced to fill professors’ imaginary work “gap” by expanding the en loco parentis tradition into En Loco Department of Immigration.

In addition to their other responsibilities and contributions, now professors are saddled with processing population growth for aggregate economic growth. Professors are left holding the immigration bag for no logical reason, but simply because they are not that organized or powerful a constituency. Already internally riven by professional schools divorced from scholarly purpose and married to commerce, scholars are incapable of organizing and articulating how scholarship contributes to society. In lieu of clarifying scholarship’s contributions, disciplines simply competitively market their wares while giant university administrations fund-raise and manage the help.

The US Working-class Risk Model in Credential Consumption and Immigration-via-University

The distinctive institutional resource that allows universities to manage this prescribed misdirection of migrants and migration workload transfer in the US is that, in contrast to the British system, graduate students in the US are not guaranteed the services of professors. Advising, mentoring, working on graduate students’ committees is completely up to professors’ discretion in US universities. In the US system a strong percentage of graduate students unceremoniously fade away from the academic departments where they were accepted for study–They have to individually develop a new strategy and leave academia–because they cannot secure the faculty members to sit on their committee or get faculty to continue serving on their committees. Grad students in the US have the typical American individualized high-risk contract for workers, rather than the more favorable contract that the British tradition provides students as consumers.

On the negative side, this US model allows for plenty of personalized and institutional abuse of graduate students. On the more functional side, in the US the burden is not on professors, but on graduate students to demonstrate through their own work, to their professors, that they can do the more independent work that I think employers and communities should expect of someone with a graduate degree. This virtue is currently not true of graduate students in the British Commonwealth.

But I think that in the Commonwealth, you could retain the better treatment of graduate students while making a graduate degree a signal of the holder’s capacity rather than a reflection of her or his professors’ capacity. This reform would provide stronger information, a benefit, to employers.

Anglo Immigration through Universities, A Reform Proposal: Not Just the Boot But Settler Chutes for Immigrants

US-style professor discretion allows the on-the-ground “migration agents”–professors– to evaluate students as they do work rather than be forced into overwork connecting university education and research with the incongruous expectations and needs of a migrant pool, people already under high adjustment demands and often unwilling and unable to take on graduate-degree work expectations. Those of us who think that universities contribute massively to society without taking on the huge sideline of immigrant-processing work may suggest alternative departmental, institutional, regional or Anglo policy we could find from within the British traditions that would permit us to best preserve core university work within the Commonwealth. An alternative to that American student-risk model that the Anglo tradition has foregone is policy that provides alternative “chutes” stemming off from an academic immigrant entry point.

This chute approach has strong precedent in English policy. In Anglo countries with indigenous populations, policy has institutionalized “ladders” for indigenous people to enter the social work, childcare, and teaching job markets from Community Schools that serve as poorly-funded neighborhood welfare hubs. Anglo approaches to working class motherhood institutionalize chutes from the delivery room to surveilled, socially-subsidized, low-wage, unskilled labour for businesses, a policy called Workfare. Such Poore Lawes policy, while extremely coercive, exploitative, and multi-generationally handicapping, is embedded in the Anglo tradition, and squats squarely in the liberal Anglo ideological wheelhouse. Institutionalized chutes are quite naturalized and legitimate in Anglo management and political cultures and not regarded as contributing to policymakers’ shame at all. Chutes policy should not be a hard sell in an Anglo region.

While chutes can be mainstay Anglo fare, they need not be Anglo-vampiric. The chutes from university for those immigrants without current scholarly capacity could serve as an alternative to the catastrophic deportation default, and avoid the political and litigation frenzy that the British government has incurred in going to extremes to avoid professors evaluating immigrant students’ work as academic work. And institutionalizing chutes does not have to be as carceral and debilitating as class-warfare Poore Lawes policy is. British Commonwealth jurisdictions do not have to reinstitute indentured servitude for immigrants. After all, the Anglo-American growth model depends on mass immigration, and in competition, Anglo regions need to continue “pulling” in a working-age population. Tweaking the concept, the chutes could be called “bridges.”

More substantively, building such connections for failing student-immigrants between universities as the immigration entry point and a number of secondary immigration paths–remedial education, vo-tech education, labour markets, and small-business supports–and investing in the on-the-ground university departments the discretion to direct immigrant-students to these bridges–to transfer immigrants to other settlement options rather than giving them the boot, rather than (unsuccesfully) treating failed students as if they were criminals because they try to game universities, could help correct migrant incentives and settler enculturation, including to fraud and inefficient distrust. Institutionalizing chutes can reinforce university standards, incentives, work, priorities, and credentials, rather than undermine them as current, underconceptualized, underdeveloped immigration-through-universities policy does. Moreover, by ending Commonwealth professors’ institutionally-enforced obligation to credential accepted students by hook or crook, restoring to professors the capacity to evaluate and credential students upon the student’s performance as a semi-independent worker, employers in the Commonwealth could count on advanced academic degrees to signal work skills and capacity.

Assessing Barriers to Productive Reform: The Reproduction of Financial Fraud & Rentier Grab-n-Go Cultures in Late Monopoly Capitalism

It looks that at this point in history, important underlying socio-economic priorities are mitigating against reform that preserves education and research integrity. I’m sure you saw that the British government conducted a review a few years ago, after the BBC blew the whistle in 2014, and found that a majority–tens of thousands– of migrants within their university system had cheated on their university English-language entrance exams. This fraud lies behind the massive redirection, across the Anglosphere, of professors’ workload into dealing by hook or crook with illiterate immigrants, innumerate immigrants, and immigrant-“students” who have little to nothing to do with scholarship, but quite unsurprisingly, just want to immigrate and not be bothered by extraneous stuff like university. Because they’re immigrants. And to be clear, it’s neither that immigrants corner the market on illiteracy, innumeracy, and socio-intellectual apathy. Nor is it that there are no scholar immigrants. It is that business-driven politicians and management working together to demote scholarship as the university priority helps legitimize general colonization of the university by interests that oppose scholarship, philosophy and science. When scholarship is marginalized at the university, we have renounced both democracy–which, yes, Anglo societies have renounced–and economic growth–which we have not yet admitted.

After attempting unsuccessfully to hit the emergency expulsion button, UK policymakers are unwilling to do anything about fraud and university colonization. No one has admitted that, in institutionalizing and normalizing cheating and falsification of qualifications, converting universities into a main migration institution is not only overloading and degrading the scholarly, citizenship, and even commercial development work that is simultaneously presumed to be done at universities, not only debasing professors’ capacity to administer and evaluate the progress of students to some level of adult, citizenship, and work competency, but also actively incentivizing fraud and gaming behaviour in the growing population.

It must be easy and quick for finance and defense industry interests to construct universities as needing to contribute ever more to financial accumulation. Far too easy. And yet, regional policymakers and business organizations need regional scholars to remind them when regional development interests diverge from the much-flogged interests at the financial metropoles that design and sell policy in support of metropole wealth accumulation and storage.

Even in this specific case of universities converted into immigration institutions, it’s obvious that there is a lot of work to do in coordinating Anglo-American cities and provinces– their Chambers of Commerce, developers, and policy makers– to incorporate a new generation of migrants in a way that allows newcomers–permanent and temporary–to align their own goals and welfare with regional development, to develop their best selves, work, and communities, to get the most out of the settler region that they can while re-creating a cohesive, vibrant, and capacious society.

 

Canadian semi-public health care

The problem with Canadian health care is not that it is too socialized. It is that it is too capitalist. It places too high a priority on delivering profit to doctors and hospitals. Indirectly, this works out pretty well for those consumers who have pronounced medical-intervention requirements, and thus can serve as profit-delivery vehicles to doctors and hospitals.

In the US, by comparison, only rich people can serve as profit-delivery vehicles to doctors and hospitals, so the advantage of the US’s extreme, conservative-liberal medical market regime is that rich consumers deliver the fattest profits to the doctors, so that some doctors in the US, the ones with the richest medical consumers, can get FAT rich. On the other hand, the Canadian system controls pharmaceutical rents. US policy favors pharmaceutical sales reps’ power over doctors. And HMOs take rents and provide another layer of market domination over US doctors.

However, this is not to say that Canada’s is a fully-developed health care system for humans. It’s medicine, triaged for capitalist requirements. Because Canada is liberal.

If you are not regularly sick or requiring physical relief and readjustment, then you are excluded from the Canadian health care system. You can’t deliver steady money to doctors and hospitals, then you are likely to not be able to access a doctor. You have to rely on continuing exercise, good food, luck, and, if you’re an adult with a little income or wealth, affordable physiotherapy. This is not too much different from Americans, though the adult access to effective, affordable physiotherapy is superior in Canada, and is an okay skeletal (ha! see what I did there?) health care system for usually-healthy adults.

However, normally-healthy Canadians often do not have access to doctors for health monitoring (eg. through childhood development or changes through aging) and consultation, nor for treatment of unusual, fleeting, or minor diseases and injuries, however much these may impact the body’s structural integrity and development. Thus, without exposure in their practice, Canadian doctors are not as adept at identifying health issues that crop up amongst a generally-healthy population. Canadian doctors tend to become experts in cancer, heart care, and broken bones. Neither liberal subject, Canadian or American, has decommodified access to dental care. This is to say that bodily structural integrity and development is never a right nor a priority in a liberal-conservative regime.

But if your luck runs out in a way that is a fast, explosive emergency (broken bones, cancer, heart events), then unlike most Americans, Canadian citizenship includes social protection in those emergencies, as access to medical treatment. And because the sick and differently-abled have access to medical intervention regardless of their own private wealth, Canada has better control over infectious diseases.

Aziz Rana’s Internationalist Platform

Aziz Rana’s (2019) policy-development prescription (somewhat reformulated by me) for Justice Dems and labor organizers, as a polity-challenger coalition:

1) Labor organizing, building networks capacitating internationalist immigrant organizing leadership.

Problem: “The overwhelming tendency–and not just on the Right–is to present immigration as an issue that begins at the national border, with virtually no attention paid to the particular histories, international economic pressures, and specific US foreign policy practices that generate migration patterns” (Rana 2019).

2) Democratic budgeting exercises reworking the security state budget, to demonstrate popular capacity to democratize foreign policy, and to reintegrate foreign and domestic policy beyond the shallow, corporate-military “America First” working-class appeasement campaign.
3) Policy ideas for transitioning the US from overgrown military keynesianism on behalf of global capitalists to a wealth-circulating, democratic-tech developing, social reproductive economy appropriate to an “overdeveloped” (rentier capitalist) economy.
4) Develop trade policy with constraints on transnational property rights, linked to the domestic economy via enforced labor and environmental standards throughout supply chains, as well as policing redirected toward repatriating (sharing across production-impacted countries) excess profits and other private accumulation stockpiles.
I would add:

5) Organizing needs to address the great portions of the American working class materially and symbolically co-opted by the capitalist security state, particularly guard labor and owners of marginal businesses. These are the American working class, herded by right wing orgs and socially- subsidized into supporting global, militarized rents extractivism at the astronomical cost of global, social and environmental destabilization. Besides designing and investing in a democratic social reproductive economy to reincentivize this working class population, how can as many as possible of these co-opted working-class Americans be reorganized into supporting a transition to democracy, demilitarization, and a social reproductive economy? David Graeber’s lesson in “Army of Altruists” (2007) can be a starting point in organizing strategy: People want to work together for a great purpose.

6) Required: an assessment of policing and military capacity to tolerate v. oppose advancement to a democratic economy and polity in the US. Assessment needs to include an inventory of tools of suppression at police and military disposal.

7) Required: an assessment of the implications of US demilitarization and democratization on international investors, private and state, and their capacity to tolerate v. oppose, including an inventory of tools of suppression at their disposal.

8) Required: an assessment of antidemocratic imperial state partners’ capacity to tolerate v. oppose US demilitarization and democratization, including an inventory of tools of suppression at their disposal.

9) Note that the fight for social democracy in Sweden required that political organizers concentrate on building unions and a union confederation across the country for three decades before launching into the polity with a political party.

This planning sketch recognizes that much of finance-organized capital, as well as the conservative-Catholic US judiciary, and most of the polity are organized against democratic development. As well, it also recognizes historical structural shifts, including those identified by Rana, that can enable organizing toward stymied social, economic, and political democratic emancipation.