More on the concept of “guard labor” as an unproductive use of resources in a private property economy with strong inequality of income/wealth. This is from Perelman’s blog, Unsettling Economics
My article on Guard Labor is in the new issue of Dollars and Sense. It is extracted from my forthcoming book, The Invisible Handcuffs.
The article begins:
Guards are everywhere in a capitalist economy. A few are dressed up in uniforms, so they are easy to spot. But most do not look like guards at all. Some sit in comfortable offices; others work on assembly lines in factories. James O’Connor, a prolific sociologist from UC Santa Cruz, describes one familiar set of guards whom we do not usually think of as guards:
Consider the labor of the ticket seller at a movie house. The seller’s task is merely to transfer the right to sit in the theater to the movie-goer in exchange for the price of a ticket. But it may not be immediately obvious that it is not the lack of a ticket that keeps you out of the theater … The ticket is actually torn up and discarded by a husky young man who stands between the box office and the seat that I want.
These guards are a central feature of capitalism. Capitalists depend upon guard labor to protect their commodities, including the goods and premises they own, but especially the labor-power in their employ. Capitalism’s reliance on guard labor deforms the entire productive process, not only wasting labor, but also snuffing out badly needed creativity.
2 thoughts on “Guard Labor « unsettling economics”
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I totally agree. This is an aspect of capitalism that is rarely discussed.
Though what I wonder is: can the concept of private property as we know it exist without ‘guard labor’?
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