Sunday, February 7, 2010

"Guard labor" and social inequality in the US

This is turning into a series of posts about the US.

A very interesting report about Samuel Bowles and his theories around the causes and consequences of the incredibly high levels of social inequality in the US.

Especially interesting I found the idea of "guard labor":

Inequality leads to an excess of what Bowles calls “guard labor.” In a 2007 paper on the subject, he and co-author Arjun Jayadev, an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts, make an astonishing claim: Roughly 1 in 4 Americans is employed to keep fellow citizens in line and protect private wealth from would-be Robin Hoods.

The job descriptions of guard labor range from “imposing work discipline”—think of the corporate IT spies who keep desk jockeys from slacking off online—to enforcing laws, like the officers in the Santa Fe Police Department paddy wagon parked outside of Walmart.

The greater the inequalities in a society, the more guard labor it requires, Bowles finds. This holds true among US states, with relatively unequal states like New Mexico employing a greater share of guard labor than relatively egalitarian states like Wisconsin.

In case you are wondering, the "Gini index", which measures social inequality (where 0 is totally equal and 100 is where one person has everything) for the US is are 46 (comparable to most 3rd world countries), whereas in Spain it is about 31 (average for EU). Sweden has the lowest in the world at 26.

1 comment:

Jeremy Holland said...

Yeah, I read the last thirty years described as a few people getting much, much wealthier who then in turn lent the extra money to the middle and working class so they can feel rich while actually making them poorer. With a society like that you need lots of guards!