Guard labor: the police, private security guards, military personnel and others who make up the disciplinary apparatus of a society.The extent of guard labor depends on exactly what you count, of course. But by our preferred estimates (which we explain shortly), roughly one in four in the United States economy is now engaged in guard labor—providing security for people and property and imposing work discipline.So says economist Samuel Bowles in a paper entitled "Garrison America." In order to ensure a disciplined capitalist workforce, and to ensure they "keep their filthy hands off my desert," we now employ a full quarter of the workforce in jobs ranging from mall cops, security officers, and "IT spies who keep desk jockeys from slacking off online," (hilariously portrayed in an episode of The Office last week).
I had never thought of it this way. The obvious "guards," of course, are the military, police and other members of law enforcement (corrections, jailers, etc.). But if you start to add in the rent-a-cops, online information nerds who help block workers from accessing certain web content, and other "minders" ubiquitous throughout the private and public sectors, it becomes stunning.
A full one quarter of the workforce is in what Bowles calls "unproductive" security labor, designed to guard the wealth and information of the power-elite. As Bowles says, not all of these jobs are unnecessary (obviously we need law enforcement, a standing military, etc.) but unproductive in the sense that they don't actually produce anything. In fact, their sole purpose is to keep YOU away from me and my things (with me being "the man" in this analogy).
Check out the Santa Fe article for a wonderful profile of Bowles (of Bowles and Gintis fame), as well as Global Sociology's take on our surveillance society.