Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Poverty and Excess Populations, At Least as Figured by Elites

Turning Poverty Into an American Crime By BARBARA EHRENREICH
In this essay, Ehrenreich updates her classic analysis of the struggles of surviving on working class wages. 

I see more and more of my college students trapped into this type of lifestyle. They can barely afford rent and transportation. Health insurance is a luxury.

We are returning to forms of social organization that privilege very small minorities.

Even worse, the majority are regarded as expendable because their labor is no longer needed for the extraction of capital.

Prior to and after the industrial revolution, human labor was valued for its capacities to generate wealth for minority interests (for nobilities under feudalism and capitalists under the industrial age).

We are entering a time when labor is not needed for capital accumulation. High frequency trading, for instance, obviates the need for labor. The era of rentier capitalism dispenses with production, at least in the industrialized nations.

Furthermore, the looming resource scarcities (oil,fresh water, fertile soil) have the effect of transforming populations into threats or risks to elite survival. Here is an excerpt from something I've written about this process of dispossession:

Brian Nichiporuk argues in his Rand publication, The Security Dynamics of Population, that population demographics are the primary threat to U.S. mobilities:
As American policymakers stand on the threshold of the 21st century, they tend to view weapons proliferation, hypernationalism, ethnic and tribal conflict, political repression, and protectionism as the principal threats to the open, liberal international order they are trying to create. All of these factors are indeed dangerous and worthy of attention, but the risks posed to U.S. security interests around the world by demographic factors must not be neglected either. The dynamics of population growth, settlement patterns, and movement across borders will have an effect on international security in the upcoming decades, and Washington can do much to solidify its geopolitical position in critical regions by anticipating demographic shifts that have security implications and by working with allies, friends, and international organizations to deal effectively with the causes and consequences of these shifts. (my italics, p. xi)

Population growth, characteristics, and dynamics are the problem-solution frames that are adopted in U.S. security discourses. In particular, the unpredictable vitalities of the young and fertile, but marginalized and impoverished, are represented as presenting the most significant risks to elites. For instance, Nichiporuk emphasizes how ideological revolutions could arise in the ring of slums surrounding many large “Third world cities” (p. 20).

It seems clear from the innovations in US "non-lethal" crowd control technologies that the designation of risky populations is also applied to US excess populaces as well.

lNichiporuk, B. (2007). Security dynamics of demographic factors. Santa Monica: Rand Corporation. Retrieved June 8, 2008 from http://www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/MR1088

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