(Roughly) Daily

“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”*…


As income and wealth inequality has grown in the developed world, so have the ranks of security guards—for gated communities, upscale residential buildings, corporate offices, exclusive events, and more. That trend– more inequality, more guards– seems especially apparent here in the U.S.  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 includes 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– a far larger number than we have of teachers at all levels.

Samuel Bowles, a professor at the Santa Fe Institute, and Arjun Jayadev, of the University of Massachusetts- Boston, explore these findings in their Opinionator piece “One Nation Under Guard.”

In America, growing inequality has been accompanied by a boom in gated communities and armies of doormen controlling access to upscale apartment buildings. We did not count the doormen, or those producing the gates, locks and security equipment. One could quibble about the numbers; we have elsewhere adopted a broader definition, including prisoners, work supervisors with disciplinary functions, and others.

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.

When we look across advanced industrialized countries, we see the same pattern: the more inequality, the more guard labor. As the graph shows, the United States leads in both…

Bowles and Javadev conclude by quoting an august Utilitarian…

“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.

Read the whole piece here.  [TotH to The Society Pages]

*”Who will watch the watchmen” (or literally, “who will guard the guards themselves?”)  Juvenal, Satires (VI, lines 347–8)


As we shore up our defenses, we might recall that it was on this date in 1967, at the close of a show in Astoria (Finsbury Park, North London) that Jimi Hendrix first set fire to his guitar.  Hendrix was treated for minor burns later that night (but apparently got the technique down quickly, as subsequent “lightings” didn’t require medical follow-up).  The slightly scorched 1965 Fender Stratocaster was sold at auction in 2012 for £250,000 (about $400,00).



Written by LW

March 31, 2014 at 1:01 am

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