Friday, April 29, 2011

An inefficient system needs an ever expanding underclass to sustain itself

That's a helluva long title, isn't it.

Long ago my favorite proff explained that in order to work, capitalism needs a certain portion of the populace to be perpetually unemployed as a way to hold down the expense known as wages (or that tiny amount of money we are allowed after working our asses off in order to feed and house ourselves and families). I understood that in a vague kind of way. Cultural hegemony was still pretty strongly entrenched in my psyche though, and it took several years of peeling away before I got it in a solid way. Who is to be the underclass doesn't matter. The qualifications have little to do with the individual. In a parallel universe there's probably an underclass of Trump offspring who are all trying to prove their citizenship but their long form birth certificates aren't cutting it with the powers that be. It's arbitrary. There is no reason, logically, that POC or women or single mothers or PWD etc, etc, etc  are more likely to occupy the underclass. It's just the easiest way our society found of creating that underclass. 

And I've been thinking about this that I read at Corrente awhile back
This raises the obvious question: Why are corporations so fleeting? After buying data on more than 23,000 publicly traded companies, Bettencourt and West discovered that corporate productivity, unlike urban productivity, was entirely sublinear. As the number of employees grows, the amount of profit per employee shrinks. West gets giddy when he shows me the linear regression charts. “Look at this bloody plot,” he says. “It’s ridiculous how well the points line up.” The graph reflects the bleak reality of corporate growth, in which efficiencies of scale are almost always outweighed by the burdens of bureaucracy. 
(bolds mine)

So if our entire economic system is dependent on large, inefficient corporations then our economic system is going to have to find more ways to increase the underclass in order to offset losses of profit that correspond with growth in corporate size. Enter the prison industrial complex.

Think about this, in the last 30 years crime rates have dropped significantly while incarceration rates have exploded. Just about nobody claims that the decrease in crime rates has anything to do with increased threat of jail time. There are theories that crime rates started declining because legalized abortion meant fewer unwanted and unprovided for children were being born, or that the elimination of lead paint (lead poisoning causes aggression) meant a mellower population. But just like privatizing aspects of the military means more wars because those with the power and money now have more incentive to lobby for wars because it directly increases their profit margin, the prison industrial complex benefits the masters of the universe both through private prisons and by enlarging the number of people who serve as the threat class at the very bottom. (Oh threat class, I like that, consider it coined!) The threat class is the class of bottom dwellers that serve to remind the people directly above them what their fate is if they question authority.  That's why a woman is going on trial for enrolling her kids in the wrong school district with the threat of a 20 year sentence.

As the system breaks down expect more things to become threat class markers. Things like obesity (OMG can't hire fat people because of insurance costs and the the idea that fat is contagious!), party pictures on social networking sites (fire that teacher for drinking a beer with friends after work at a non-school function, or for having a profile on a causal sex dating site, or or or). The good news is that these are signs that the system is in it's death throes. The bad news is that more and more of you will be joining me in the threat class while it dies.

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