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