Monday, February 17, 2014

When one percent of the population holds or controls all the wealth, there is no security. Especially not among the one percent.

Some years ago, in Quito, Ecuador, I noticed that in every wealthy section of town, each house seemed to have at least one armed guard standing at the front door. A few had two armed guards. My driver’s little jest was that the homes with two guards were the homes of the superrich.

I speculated that there would come a time when the superrich would feel threatened by even bigger thugs than they are today.

All that was covered here, in a reminiscence that, in retrospect, I find harrowing. Now, it turns out, I wasn’t merely speculating. In fact, I might have been pretty close to the mark.

In a piece posted by The New York Times on its blog pages today, two university professors, Samuel Bowles and Arjun Jayadev have revealed their own, statistics-based take on the same dire social consequence of concentrating too much wealth into too few hands. It nearly comes down to equation: the greater the income inequality, the greater the number of people working as security guards or the equivalent. By implication, mutual mistrust among fellow citizens increases, too.

I urge you to read their piece, and then to look into Bowles’ recently-published book on the subject, The New Economics of Inequality and Distribution.

Some of the points Bowles touched on in the blog piece:

• “We now employ as many private security guards as high school teachers — over one million of them, or nearly double their number in 1980.”

•“What is happening in America today is both unprecedented in our history, and virtually unique among Western democratic nations. The share of our labor force devoted to guard labor has risen fivefold since 1890…”

• “…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.”

• “There is a simple economic lesson here: A nation whose policies result in substantial inequalities may end up spending more on guns and getting less butter as a result.”

So sleep well, one percenter robber barons. That brief cry you heard below your window just now probably was not one of your security guards having his throat slit by a group of thugs who are about to batter down your door, kidnap you and ship your digits one by one to your negotiators until someone in your retinue comes up with the ransom. 

Again, I said that probably won't happen. Not this year, anyway.

Cross-posted at The New York Crank


Julia said...

But where are these security guards being employed? The article doesn't give a solid definition of what it means by a guard.

Also, it is a bit precious to say NY and Louisiana use more guards compared to states like Idaho and NH due to economic inequality.

This completely overlooks the issue of race and the perception that brown skinned people are thieves. Again, I suspect the bulk of these guards are in malls and department stores, not standing outside of 1% homes waiting to fend off the proles.


"Is this the curse of affluence? Or of ethnic diversity? We don’t think so. The guard-labor share of employment in the United States is four times what it is in Sweden, where living standards rival America’s. And Britain, with its diverse population, uses substantially less guard labor than the United States."

This is incredibly glib. (I assume the author doesn't mean ethnic diversity is a curse.) I don't know if Britain's ethnic population is as diverse as America's. I've only been there twice and I'd say it isn't, but assume it is.

One thing that we got that the Brits don't got is guns. Lots and lots and lots of guns that are easy to acquire and use.

I believe it wasn't until the mid- late 80's that beat cops started carrying guns in England? But to fail to account for gun violence in their analysis is really sloppy.

Philo Vaihinger said...

Armed guards for the wealthy, no police for the rest. Effective policing is socialism, didn't you know?

Victor said...

No, probably not this year.

But the TV shows had better stay entertaining this fall going into next year, or the proles might actually get restless enough to get up off their fat asses, look around, and see who the ones with the problems really are.

Hint - it ain't the rich.

brett said...

Police blotter for Atherton, CA, where the median house price is $4,010,200:

extreme wealth makes you insane

Postscript said...

What brett said. I actually work security, and I've worked in rougher, higher intensity environments (the sort of place where you WILL wind up having to physically defend yourself) as well as in much more upscale, posh environments.

I deal with a lot of "crazy" at my current location - primarily lower income people or the homeless (many veterans, almost all with one or more untreated mental health or substance abuse issues).

The simple fact is... rich people are whole different kind of crazy. I might get someone threatening to kill me at my current location - at upscale properties I've had coked out rich trustafarians nearly hit me with their sportscars instead. I have felt for years that wealthy people are flat out nuts. You need to have a pretty major issue to have all your creature comforts met, no personal risk, and yet be constantly concerned with needing more.

Postscript said...

I should note that my personal favorite "crazy rich person" story involves a terrified man calling me to report that someone was trying to break into his appartment... while I wss patrolling outside it in the hallway. He'd heard my keys, and he saw some scary minorities earlier in the day, and, well...

How I kept it to "Sir, that is not someone trying to break in and kil you - if you look out your doors peephole you will see me. On the phone. With you." remains one of life's mysteries.

Geese Howard said...

This will be fixed when renewable energy, faster data networks, robotics, AI, 3d printing, and medical printing let them get completely detached.

We're just on the cusp of where the middle class and poor not only won't be needed, but will simply be a resource drain. Everybody knows it, and it will be a glorious future for the rich.