I’m posting today on my Blog extracts from a NYTimes op ed piece, One Nation Under Guard, I’ve just recently read by Sam Bowles and Arjun Jayadev. I find what they have to say interesting to say the least, in fact, extraordinary! I wonder how many of us, let alone our representatives in Washington, are even aware of the size of what Bowles and Jayadev call our nation’s “Guard Labor.” I know I wasn’t. For example:
Another dubious first for America: We now employ as many private security guards as high school teachers — over one million of them, or nearly double their number in 1980.
And that’s just a small fraction of what we call “guard labor.” In addition to private security guards, that means police officers, members of the armed forces, prison and court officials, civilian employees of the military, and those producing weapons: a total of 5.2 million workers in 2011. That is a far larger number than we have of teachers at all levels.
What does this say about us? Is this who we are? Or does this represent a wrong turn still on the way “out of Africa”? We’re told that the share of the labor force devoted to guard labor has risen fivefold since 1890, although probably significant but not mentioned is the fact that our resident population has also risen fivefold during the same time, from 63 million to over 300 million. And there are those who would explain everything that is going wrong to the sheer numbers of us.
B and J also wonder why this is so, that the numbers of our guard labor are so elevated, and also much higher than those of other Western democracies. And they make a point to note that the high numbers seem to go along with the current rise in financial or economic inequality —correlation or causation?
But however one totes up guard labor in the United States, there is a lot of it, and it seems to go along with economic inequality. States with high levels of income inequality — New York and Louisiana — employ twice as many security workers (as a fraction of their labor force) as less unequal states like Idaho and New Hampshire.
Furthermore, they also note that:
Social spending is strongly and inversely correlated with guard labor … There is a simple economic lesson here: A nation whose policies result in substantial inequalities may end up spending more on guns and getting less butter as a result.
Interesting. What is the relationship between the three, economic inequality, social spending, and guard labor? One might say that as inequality deepens among a people, as presently in the United States, but also in Western Europe, the need for more social spending, for a larger safety net, also goes up, but the available money goes more to guns than to butter, more to guard labor than to education, health care, and food and income supports.
Sam Bowles and Arjun Jayadev one last time:
(They haven’t made the case for inequality as the cause of the high numbers of guard labor, but they are raising and asking some of the right question(s))
Every society divides its labor between those who produce things and those who guard the store. But how much guard labor is too much?
“It is lamentable to think,” wrote the philosopher John Stuart Mill, in 1848, “how a great proportion of all efforts and talents in the world are employed in merely neutralizing one another.” He went on to conclude, “It is the proper end of government to reduce this wretched waste to the smallest possible amount, by taking such measures as shall cause the energies now spent by mankind in injuring one another, or in protecting themselves from injury, to be turned to the legitimate employment of the human faculties.”
This venerable call to beat swords into plowshares resonates still in America and beyond. Addressing unjust inequality would help make this possible.