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…


…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


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

“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.


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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.

Slavery and absolute elite freedom

“For us (Western civilization) freedom has been understood to sanction the ability of creditors to demand payment from debtors without restraint or oversight. This is the freedom to cannibalize society. This is the freedom to enslave. This is, in the end, the freedom proclaimed by the Chicago School and the mainstream of American economists.” —John Siman, reviewing Michael Hudson’s “And forgive them their debts” (2018).

Hudson argues that prior to the Roman Empire, previous agrarian Western civilizations enforced periodic debt amnesty in recognition of the inevitable, inevitably corrosive relationship between financial speculators and smallholding producers. After the Romans, Western economic elites were able to outrun the negative consequences of forcing those with the least degrees of freedom to carry the costs of market failure.

Why were elites able to dump economic failure on nonelites, cut and run, from the Romans onward–which is generally, popularly considered the geographic and historical boundary of Western civilization? Perhaps Hudson answers this? My guess: Incentives or balance of power changed in the relation between the king and the oligarchy/financiers. Why from the Romans on did it not usually pay for the king to intervene between financiers and their slaver tendency? Did monarchs become more dependent upon financiers, for example to fight wars and imperial wars? That Sweden was a late exception is interesting–In that country, there was alienation between the king and the aristocracy into the 19th century, which produced a heritage of space for non-elite semi-sovereign agency. Did something–for example the capacity to concentrate agriculture ownership and production–change in societies’ ability to contain economic and  political damage within their enslaved smallholder class? This was clearly a part of the British advantage in achieving early capitalism.

But what permitted this shift? Transportation technology, permitting export-oriented agriculture? Perhaps this is why economists are so insistent that agricultural production be export-oriented: Export-oriented agriculture removes control over the means of reproduction from non-elites. [Note to self: Draw the following mechanism out with examples:] Centrally controlling the means of reproduction, as means of production, coheres otherwise-divided elite interests, permits elite solidarity around a shared interest in advancing slavery.

As Siman says, this reproductive-productive controlling ownership is what we define as “economic growth;” it creates certain kinds of heavily-touted benefits, but certainly we recognize it produces vast, deep, endemic costs: epigenetic, environmental, war and violence, institutionalized incapacity to shift into ecologically- and socially-rational directions, stunting smallholders’ development, imposing a sin and shame psychological burden upon smallholders, racialized and genderized alienation and defection, inducing corrupt governance, etc.

With the French Revolution and the mass emigration, however, all of Europe’s financial class were restrained from enslaving the domestic population…slavery was instead imposed in the colonies. To this day, nonelite sovereignty is fragile or highly compromised in the colonies.

Research note: Seems like you could trace this ultra-burden/ultra-freedom discrepancy epigentically.

While debt is the slavery-instituting mechanism, Hudson’s analysis complements and goes back in history beyond Losurdo (2011) and Blyth (2002), locating the connection between Western political economy and slavery not just in liberalism, but liberalism as an extension of that Roman elitist innovation in transferring risk and culpability for market failure onto debtors rather than on gambling financiers.

“Moral Hazard” My Ass

…The last bit of Siman’s article, having to pedantically explain that it’s a little weird that conservative economists’ “Moral Hazard” only applies to smallholders, and doesn’t apply to financial speculators, despite their theory that these speculators are the agents, principally doing everyone a liquidity solid (favor), reminds me of a grad geographic economics class I took as a student. This, and how other blind spots were strutted out as if they were logical achievements, rather than formalized marketing and legitimation flim-flammery, went a long way toward revealing what the Economics discipline actually is and does.

Primitive Accumulation, Anyone?

There are two ways to read this HSBC investment ad. The first one is naive.

The second one is about how wealth languishes in the remaining assets of the aging yet childish (unworthy, vulnerable) American middle class, and the bank is there to help investors get in on the expropriation. We were warned.