The economics of guard labor

In a recent working paper, Samuel Bowles and Arjun Jayadev look at the economics of guard labor.

“We explore the economic importance of the private and public exercise of power in the execution of contracts and defense of property rights. We define power and represent it in a model of growth in a modern capitalist economy, borrowing themes from the classical economists (unproductive labor, product-driven investment), Marx (the labor disciplining effect of unemployment), and the contemporary theory of incomplete contracts (the role of monitoring and enforcement rents). We use this model to identify the resources devoted to the exercise of power, which we term guard labor as we measure these in labor units. Data from the United States indicate a significant increase in its extent in the U.S. over the period 1890 to the present. Cross national comparisons show a significant statistical association between income inequality and the fraction of the labor force that is constituted by guard labor, as well as with measures of political legitimacy (inversely) and political conflict. Some observations on the welfare implications of guard labor conclude the paper.”