America's ever more flexible (incarcerated) workforce

John K. Taber jktaber at
Wed Mar 29 07:12:17 PST 2000

"Carl Remick" <carlremick at> wrote:

< Quote from the often pithy columnist George Szamuely in the current NY Press:

" ... [U.S.] prisoners today are increasingly a source of cheap labor. A number of states permit private companies to use convict labor. For the corporations this makes excellent sense: they don’t have to pay their prisoner-employees health insurance or unemployment insurance. They don’ t have to worry about vacations or sick leave. If a prisoner is sick, he is immediately replaced. If a prisoner is released the prison finds a substitute. There are no unions to worry about. As for the non-incarcerated workers, they will just have to work harder for less pay so as to remain 'competitive.' American workers already have to compete against African and Asian sweatshops. Now they have domestic sweatshops to worry about. Prison labor is the Wall Street Journal dream come true: a flexible labor market. Hillary and her husband have happily presided over all of this. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why liberals like her so much."


Hmm. Many workers in freedom (to use Solzhenitsyn's expression) don't have health or unemployment insurance. What's the difference?

Maybe prisoners have it better in some respects. The medical care is lousy but it is more than many auto mechanics get. No unemployment benefits, but at least they eat, as miserable as the slop may be.

And prison labor long predates Hillary. It was 20 years ago that I stumbled onto commercial computer programming in the prisons.

Does Szamuely have an axe to grind against Hillary? To allude to Solzhenitsyn again "Pushkin did it." Only here, it's "Clinton did it."

It seems to me that the significance of prison labor is not capitalist exploitation but the rising importance of state security apparatuses. A rival capitalism, so to speak, whose growth is due to some unnamed dread of the people on the part of the leaders.

-- It is more useful to see stock options as an outsourcing of executive compensation to the company's shareholders directly rather than washing it through the annual report. -- Jordan Hayes

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list