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Guard labor (chart)

from David Ruccio


As Sam Bowles and Arjun Jayadev explain,

Does the graph show that inequality causes a country to devote more of its labor force to guard labor? It is hard to be sure. It could be that people with a strong commitment to economic justice are, for some unknown reason, also more law-abiding, explaining the difference between Denmark and the United States. But the correlation evident in the graph could be evidence that economic disparities push nations to devote more of their productive capacity to guarding people and property. Fear and distrust of one’s neighbors and fellow citizens fuel the demand for guard labor. Economic disparities can contribute to both. Among the countries shown, a common measure of distrust of strangers is strongly correlated with both the guard-labor fraction and inequality.

I often tell students that engineering has gone through various stages in the U.S. economy over the course of the past century—from production engineering (to produce more surplus) through sales engineering (to realize more of the surplus) to financial engineering (to capture more of the surplus).

Now, I guess, engineers are increasingly needed to devise ways of guarding the surplus.

  1. Cristi C
    February 18, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    What about Norway and Belgium? Is it related to guarding the North Sea oil corporations and infrastructure and the headquarters of EU, respectively? Or just outliers?

  2. February 19, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    a case of correlation ain’t causation

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