Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Officer Friendly's guide to class conflict

Santa Fe Reporter:

“Inequality breeds conflict, and conflict breeds wasted resources,” [economist Samuel Bowles] says.

[I]n a very unequal society, the people at the top have to spend a lot of time and energy keeping the lower classes obedient and productive.

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.

I find the easiest way to judge the inequality of a community is to note how its law enforcement personnel are dressed and equipped, among other tendencies.

If police look like they stepped out of a Norman Rockwell painting, this suggests that they have nothing to fear but blacks and the errant white ne'er-do-well.

On the other hand, if cops begin to take on the appearance of storm troopers, requiring military-style armor and weaponry because "the criminals have become more sophisticated" this tells you something about the declining status of the white working class majority from which cops are recruited.

As inequality becomes more equal, greater ubiquity of force is required to protect the gains of the rich. This is what leads the police of many societies to take on the appearance of their army, or for the army to take on this role themselves.

Thanks to BLCKDGRD and The Angry Arab News Service


Ted said...

I've been noticing the same thing, and struggling to put my finger on what it was I was seeing. Nice one.
In his his autobiography, Malcolm X observed that when he was in a new town he could always find the black neighborhood by finding the high school named for Abraham Lincoln. Your remark has a similar sad elegance.

JRB said...

Thanks, Ted. Brother Malcom was a practical fellow.

And thanks granting us a peek at your blog. Eager to have a closer look in the near future.