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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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.

Serfdom: From the American Working Class to Global Capital & China

Conservative organizer Friedrich Hayek famously, counterintutitively predicted that democratic Enlightenment and egalitarianism would restore serfdom. However, in our less enthralling, dog-bites-man history, financialized global capitalism restored serfdom instead.

Partly, as the capitalist economic coordination organizations (World Bank) like to point out, that is the cost of recycling wealth to China and India, which have been serving as the global factory. Partly, that is the cost of building up the astronomical fortunes and exclusive sovereignty of a restored, and slightly more global patrimonial capitalist class.

Class War Brings Commodified Life…

8-22-17highered_f9

…Paid for with Credit in Lieu of Income.

not including mortgage debt (presuming mortgages debts converts into private wealth at some point), US data.

debt to income us households minus mortgage

From the 1970s on, Anglosphere Rentier Capitalism Busts Out, EZ Credit Permits Housing Prices to Balloon, and Household Debt Balloons

Blue (below) is household debt, from the 1920s-2010s.

debt life

…Then, Fed on Credit Not Income, the US Working Class Hemorrhages Wealth in the 21st Century

After housing asset inflation, student & car loans expand.

total household debt us 03-16

The American Working Class Lives in Debt Serfdom, Loses Wealth, so that China Can Develop & Global Capital Can Accumulate

Chinese Money on Credit Markets

Suffering and Dying in 21st Century American Serfdom

One way of recognizing the impact of this global capitalist macro social construction is in its effects on working class people’s life chances. As working class people are in the majority, their suffering impacts population health statistics.

Regardless of current racial composition, former slavery counties continue to maintain inegalitarian slavery institutions, facilitating elite prosperity on the back of mass human stunting. The map below shows the bifurcating distribution, in the US, of declining (green) and increasing (pink) mortality in the 21st century. This is to say that life expectancy is declining in the pink zones.

divergent mortality rates, US

The orange and blue map below shows the distribution, within the US, of the “hardest places to live” (in orange). Easier living is found in the darker blue counties. The “hard places” index was constructed from data on each county in the United States on education (percentage of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree), median household income, unemployment rate, disability rate, life expectancy and obesity.

hardest places in the US

Index and map by Alan Flippen, New York Times, June 26, 2014.

By comparing the above life-chances distribution maps to the green map below, we can note the correlation between white evangelical Christianity (light green) as a sacralized organization (associated with inegalitarian slavery culture) and crappy life chances. White evangelical Christians are just a-passin’ through this world–all rough ‘n’ tumble-like.

whats wrong with oregon

Women’s health is taking a hard hit with the restoration of class inequality within the US. The chart below shows the high and increasing rate of maternal mortality in the US, compared with other core capitalist countries.

Maternal Deaths per 100,000 live births

propublica-mortality-rates

While life chances have always been distributed by race, gender and class in the US, aggregate life expectancy has begun to gradually decline in the 21st century US. “Life expectancy in the United States has declined for a second year in a row, driven in large part because increasing numbers of Americans are dying from drug overdoses, suicides and chronic liver disease, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A baby born in 2016 can expect to live 78.6 years, which is down from 78.7 years in 2015 and 78.9 years in 2014.”–Susan Perry, US Minn Post.

LifeExpectancy640 US by race

We all contribute to society

The anti-BI (Basic Income) argument is that a social wage will a) inadequately replace the welfare state (‘turn everyone into a shopper’), b) will alienate workers from each other, c) is a new capitulation to capitalist control over the surplus, d) would be expensive. Even though BI doesn’t require much institutional capacity, (d) is an issue, given Anglo-American (inter alia) states don’t tax capital and redistribute wealth domestically anymore. Excepting (d), these objections assert an incredible novelty. I mean unbelievable.

Also, BI antagonists argue, against Marx (per Scarry 1985), that work under capitalist conditions is all making, not unmaking, so needs to be the ideal. For example, not unlike both Adam Smith and slavers, BI opponents argue that any form of work compulsion is psychologically beneficial and imparts executive skills development to workers. Such a “Protestant Ethic” framework failure to differentiate developmental making from stunting unmaking in work conditions (All work is a “calling” in the Anglo-American Protestant Ethic, though some “callings” are more aligned with God than others, as we can tell by income.) is an analytical misstep without much valid empirical evidence for it, but with grave social, economic, and political consequences.

Looking at the MB (Dauphin) BI experiment, as studied by economist Dr. Evelyn Forget, I remain unconvinced that anyone should be against Basic Income. It is not revolution, and it does not semi-decommodify humans as social democracy does, but it accomplishes one crucial decommodifying innovation that restores the substantive idea of democracy: It institutionalizes the idea that everyone within a territory contributes to society; it commits the state to recognizing territorial citizenship. In our long era of neoliberalization, this is a radical step. In our long era of neoliberalization, we have totally abandoned and lost track of any conceptualization of substantive territorial citizenship in favor of substantive, global capitalist class citizenship and a marginal remainder of thin, fragile, extensive territorial citizenship, heavily constrained by the carceral state and market.

Moreover, in transferring money directly to citizens, BI could reduce the development of a disciplinary, rentier surveillance and management “social work” bureaucracy, the central anxiety of twentieth century conservative and liberal champions of liberty. (Though conservatives also effectively organized to remove social workers’ capacity to form sovereign coalitions with clients and the public for liberatory social change. At least BI would not feed the easy moral-economy accommodation romantic post-structuralists made under conservative organizers’ hegemony.) The downside is that, instead of redirecting labour to social work, BI would continue to permit the publicly-funded persistence of the even-more disciplinary, multi-layered, public-private guard, police, and military corps, a leviathan rentier layer no conservative economist seems to object to.

From B-I, anything could be done, just as anything could be done from the current sorry state. Shouldn’t we be fighting for territorial citizenship rights and institutions? Shouldn’t we be strategizing how to collectivize B-I?

Capitalist Murder

“Behind the self destructive behaviour, the authors say, are economic factors, including rising poverty rates, unemployment, financial insecurity, and corruption. Whereas only 4%of the population of the region had incomes equivalent to $4 (£2.50) a day or less in 1988, that figure had climbed to 32%by 1994. In addition, the transition to a market economy has been accompanied by lower living standards (including poorer diets), a deterioration in social services, and major cutbacks in health spending.” James Ciment 1999

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1116380/

“Though the Whites executed and starved tens of thousands of Reds after the war, they were particularly ruthless with the Women’s Guards. White soldiers raped and mutilated them before shooting them dead. Their bodies were stripped naked or twisted into obscene positions.

A 2016 study by a young historian, Marjo Liukkonen, uncovered evidence revealing that the Whites executed far more women and children in the infamous Hennala concentration camp than previously believed.” –“Finland’s Red Women,” Jacobin

A Century of U.S. Intervention Created the Immigration Crisis.

 

View this collection on Medium.com

Extractivism & Universities

The late 20th century was full of analyses of the growing post-secondary education market. These analyses came to the simple conclusion that the role of the university in society was growing and so with it, opportunities for good careers in scholarship. Democrats imagined a world of increasingly-civilized middle class people.

But scholars are not very organized. Meanwhile, financialized capitalism does organize managers and surveillance software commerce. Organization, it turned out, was the relevant variable.

Fast forward 30 years and now post-secondary education budgets, derived from both states and individual families, serve many economic purposes, from hosting the managerial labour market to the marketing labour market to the accountanting labour market, to construction industry and the surveillance software industry, and on to immigration screening and prep.

To accomplish this reorganization, most of the unorganized people undergoing the extensive and intensive education regime to become doctors of philosophy and scholars were converted into cheap, just-in-time, deskilled front-line service workers.

As conservatives identified, universities were in the business of rent extraction. The problem is where the rents come from. With neoliberalization, rents would be extracted from students’ families and scholars, rather than the tax-paying public, identified as the Trente Glorieuses source of rents in conservative economists’ shaky political revision of the rents concept.

This conversion to mining scholars makes lots of sense in a financialized era: As food pulp becomes an underlying commodity market securitizing financial rents on ag land, post-secondary education was converted into a commodity market undergirding managerial, marketing, financial, software systems, and construction rents.

In addition to securitizing financial and other rents, universities are also managed to provide auxillary services in support of capitalist social reproduction. From their traditional low-key side role supervising young elite men working through the often-rough early transition to adulthood, professors have been saddled with more and more extreme, unpaid, consuming social reproduction job responsibilities. Extreme odd jobs foisted upon professors in the neoliberal era include: 1) serving as an unpaid part of immigration gatekeeping, by helping attract, weed and secure skilled labor; 2) serving as an unpaid part of the university front line “accommodating,” AKA insufficiently providing caretaking services to young people with mental illnesses and sometimes suicidal tendencies. This additional responsibility requires reconceptualizing not only the professor-student relation as a form of crisis comms management, but also the classroom–not as a collective learning environment, but as an optional venue for amateur psychological and social group experiments;  and 3) grant writing for public scholarly resources in order to both fund university rentiers and deploy young female students in symbolic support of the blasted, tattered social reproduction of dis-organized, racialized and poverty populations.

All this semi-official, multi-layered, inefficient and inappropriate redeployment of scholarly workers within the neoliberalized university is of course a symptom of core capitalism’s incapacity to simultaneously foster economic growth and the life conditions of economic growth. The borders have been militarized. The public mental health institutions dismantled. The students are supposed to take on debt to do post-secondary education work full time while doing remunerated junk jobs full time while lurching into young adulthood. The welfare state has been hacked back down to Nightwatchman Poor Laws. O, the abstract/elite liberty. Professors are serving as free immigration guard labor, amateur psychologists and social workers, and amateur social-work managers, and they’re doing that on top of their academic responsibilities simply because they have been identified as a remnant capable population of workers. Tenured professors are still capable because they’re getting paid just enough to live with only the crisis of overwork, while the rest of working families are drowning in crisis.

This proletarianization of a disorganized people who deferred income, and took on debt, in order to attain semi-sovereign and self-developmental work, is the function of management and surveillance software firms, which tend to be integrated. The proletarianized scholars tend to come from poorly-networked social backgrounds, such as working-class families, or they are female and subject to reduced credit and cooperation within the decent-compensation, semi-sovereign labour market.

Immigration and university privatization culturally cement this top-down-led reorganization. The internet abounds with triumphant stories, in extremely non-proficient English, of international students who were “friends” with the Anglo or American university chancellor or president (A friendship only possible above a very high wealth bar.), students who declined to do the work for a class, got a grade that inconvenienced them, and summoned their class network to kick the professor’s “ASS out into the gutter.” Global consumers clearly perceive this to be a global upper-class mafia age.

Scholars who study academia have reminded me to never forget that administrators see scholars as strictly “peasants.” That labour-disciplining, aristocratic entitlement culture, the expectations of servitude and expropriation, trickles down to the credential consumers, aligning them with the university’s internal and external array of gape-mawed rentiers in management, marketing, construction, finance, R&D, intellectual property rights, and surveillance software (including course/immigration skills-evaluation and testbank software, accounting software, classroom-allocation software, performance metrics and evaluation software, and consumer satisfaction metrics).

The culture is further amplified amongst those competitive academics with a system-gaming orientation.

 

Dem Party Strategy as Management Subclass Interest

Since the Humphrey-Mondale-Freeman Modernization period (1940s-1968), the Dem Party strategy has been to dump out White slavers, drive them out of the Democrat Party.

To be clear:

The Dem Party strategy is to work with Republicans, the slaver party, to maintain the US as a society specializing in managerial surveillance and regulation, and militarized-policing labor, as well as to maintain “Open” Borders for discount support work (social reproduction, infrastructure maintenance, productive labor). Funneling past wealth and future wealth to global metropolitan capitalists, Dems and Republicans together deplete citizenship rights and expand slavers’ institutions across the Union, while coercively pushing (with imperial interventions) and pulling migrant labor into the US to lower the cost of labor. This is the liberal definition of altruism.

Liberal altruism achieves credibility through organizing pro-migrant and pro-immigration activists into the Open Borders coalition; and by the credible threat of White-brand terror campaigns, it promotes a sense of urgency, inevitability, and moral righteousness. Any working class-centric alternatives to the Open Borders working class-disorganizing, slavery system are denounced as enabling Republican state terror, posed as the only other organizable option.

The model showcase for this Dem Party strategy is California, where Open Borders policy attracted (pent-up) mass migration–especially Hispanic mass migration– that maintained group integrity, and outweighed and out-muscled policies to make migrant workers vulnerable. This migration largely settled California’s familiar geography and historically-contiguous territory.

Fairly efficiently, those settlers have provided votes largely to the Democrat Party, in recognition of that party’s maintenance of Open Borders policy and its comparatively moderate position on domestic state terror. Incentivized by capital’s demand for labor-factor mobility (labor arbitrage), the Dem Party believes that the electoral success they had with the bipartisan Open Borders strategy in California is universally replicable.

Further thoughts on Open-Borders Cosmopolitanism

Goodhart, David. 2013. “Why the left is wrong about immigration.” The Guardian.

Goodhart’s argument points toward the fact that individualistic capitalist liberalism (or anarcho-capitalism) discredits collective rights of the working class, such as citizenship rights. That is why a coalition of economists, financiers, left-liberals, liberals, and anarchists see migration, including disruptive, dislodging imperial warfare inducing migration, as the solution to inequity. In their view, labor arbitrage (enabled by immiseration and imperial warfare) will make financial capitalism, extraction, climate crisis, managerialism, surveillance, and blanket militarized policing and warfare whole and virtuous.

Because they only have to circulate populations to make metropole virtue in their view, liberals don’t care what happens to migrants once they’ve been circulated to the core. So that immigration consists of citizenship Lite or parole/semi-criminalized status, prison slave workhouse sentences, and egregious immigration qualification-job skills mismatch.

Note that David Graeber pointed out that in capitalist societies, the only forms of collective action that are unambiguously legal for the working class to engage in is through religious and ethnic networks, or of course vertically, in collaboration with the capitalist class. As TH Marshall noted, citizenship rights were up to late 1960s expanded in response to working class pressure to allow for democratic development by permitting solidarity, collective action beyond the market and religious-ethnic groups. Neoliberalism halts and reverses rights expansion as geographically “exclusionary,” a set of misallocated collective action privileges merely corresponding to the lived boundaries of working class life. Neoliberals instead fight for dislodging and inducing the global flow of capital and other factors of production as proper liberation.

Just as capitalists systematically discount social reproduction work in order to accumulate wealth, liberals in capitalist societies systematically de-institutionalize and criminalize working class collective action capacity. Thereupon, imperial wars can be waged and laboring migrants can be circulated without considering the costs and who is bearing them.

Angela Nagle wrote a piece, “The Left Case against Open Borders” arguing against the reigning anarcho-capitalist Open Borders coalition. It’s mostly a pretty good argument, although she is naive about a border-policing technology, E-Verify. I can kind of understand because it started as a way of regulating employers. As surveillance software deployed by the US police state, however, it’s been converted into surveilling employees, which makes workers vulnerable, vulnerable to super-exploitation. The Left alternative would be to unionize all migrant labor and have unions regulate employers. Unions certainly regulated Marxists; they could regulate employers’ hiring practices.

Certainly, the Left should be mobilizing to reduce management, surveillance technologies, ICE, and the entire militarized police state. Until the left finds a way of building better jobs for the working class than what we’ve got–what effectively amounts to a vast foreign- AND domestic-pointed military, “Open Borders” is just co-optive, fake-altrueese for the Chamber of Commerce’s agenda: no-citizenship, no-rights, discount labor circulation, subsidizing concentrated wealth accumulation while deferring the economic check of paying for social reproduction work, and freed up by military interventions. Open Borders is a policy that was automated decades ago, by politically-mobilized capital. The Dems and the Republicans just alternate who gets to put the capitalist screws, teargas, and handcuffs on workers, including the rightsless, vulnerable migrant workers.