[OPE-L:6971] Re: the cost of prisons

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@msn.com)
Date: Fri Apr 12 2002 - 06:16:46 EDT

Re Paul B's [6970]:

> Fine... so now we are examining  labourers imprisoned by  capitalist
> society, and which in some cases more or les compells them to work. ie
> slaves.

Whether the prison labor could be considered to represent slave labor
depends on whether the prisoners receive a wage and _what_ degree of
compulsion there is to work.  E.g. wage-workers are compelled to work
in _one_  important sense [i.e. they need a wage in order to purchase the
commodities which they need to meet their necessary reproduction
requirements] yet this compulsion is a characteristic of wage-labor rather
than of slavery.  Also as a caveat I should add that there are some prisons
in the South Pacific where prisoners are given the use of land and means of
production and simply left -- without supervision -- to provide for
themselves. In this (unusual) case, the labor of the prisoners is clearly
neither wage-labor  nor slavery.

> Lets take this aspect  of the use of the modern prisoner. It would require
> better study of overall costs  etc.. as you say to asses whether thgis was
> profitablke, or an attempt
> simply to reduce state expenditure. What I was trying to open up is the
> question, under / in a
> direct capitalistic society, what does the variation in legal status mean
> for the definition of wage labour ?

Whether workers receive a wage is _more than_ a legal status: it determines
(along with other characteristics) a social relation specific to capitalism.

> I am sure that in primitive prison
> conditions a clear profit could be made from exploiting prisoners, yet
> they  would not be free  labourers.

Perhaps.  Yet, even in those primitive conditions, the costs for
'supervision' and 'detention' could be very high in relation to the price of
the output.

> The price of the commodities they produce would be set by the
> market.

Perhaps. There might be state subsidies or price supports.

> Here we would get value and surplus value produced (state owned or
> not).

State owned (and controlled) or not is a big question that concerns
whether state employees are productive or unproductive of surplus
value.  Also, even where a 'profit' would be made, this doesn't mean
that the 'commodities' have been produced capitalistically.

> It is a little way from here to the practical enslavement of workers
> in company owned towns with no alternatives, subject to horrendous
> discipline etc in much of capitalist  production ... eg the compounds now
> surrounding Jakarta.

Are they receiving a wage?  Did they apply to be exploited and thereby
agree to an 'employment contract'?  Can they leave the compound if they
quit their jobs?   If the answer to any of these questions is 'yes', then I
don't think that their condition could be described as representing slavery.
As for 'horrendous discipline', I'm sure that this takes place there and
for many other wage-earners internationally, yet the severity of discipline
does not _determine_ whether they are productive of surplus value [indeed,
_in general_, the form that the labor takes is what determines the form of
discipline required].

> I am concerned that we don't treat the categories used
> in Marx's analysis of a mature capitalism as a formal template by which to
> judge whether or not capitalism is at work..

OK.  But, whether "capitalism is at work" is a different question from
whether surplus value is produced by specific workers.  You would agree,
I trust, that unproductive labor employed by corporations is an example
of "capitalism at work" even though those workers don't -- by definition --
produce surplus value.  Isn't the US military an example of "capitalism at
work" --  yet that doesn't mean that the US sailors and soldiers are
productive of surplus value. In a similar sense, *of course*, capitalism has
to be held  accountable for the reinstitution of slavery in the South,  but
though capitalism is responsible this doesn't mean that slaves are
productive of
surplus value.

> we should be assessing the
> process as it develops... how in the case of US slavery, wage labour could
> not be found and a 'temporary' resolution had to be found . Capital as a
> relation could not be exported as Marx underlines in his chapter on
> colonialism and West's ideas. So capitalism created the slave system for
> that specific and transitory period....

Agreed. (In fact, I made that same point recently to Rakesh in terms of
how typically slavery has been reinstituted  in situations there is a
temporary labor-power shortage.)

> it was capitalistic in nature, it
> was not genuinely 'feudal', it was a throw back.

It was a 'throw back" -- yet I agree that it was not genuinely feudal.

> I think we have come across this question of what i would call formal
> definition versus historical analysis in our exchanges about the state's
> production activities,  which comes out again in what you say  eg......
> > must represent a capitalist enterprise -- but rather than being
> > owned and controlled prisons they are part of the state
> > 2) prisons are not structured on a 'for profit' basis.
> Well, apart from your later comments the Public/Private partnerships in
> UK have seen the growth of privately run prisons making a profit from
> 'service'... ie transfering surplus value via state tax system..
> so I think you meant to say  'not structured to craeted surplus value'...
> which is then clarified as such when you say......
> > 3) the funding for prisons represents a *deduction* from surplus value.

Yes, that's what I meant.

> > 4) prisoners are "free" in no sense of the term (other than, typically,
> the freedom to work or stay in one's jail cell.)...
> This irritates bourgeose society so that compulsion to work has always
> accompanied prison regimes
> > 5) even where the products of prison labor are sold on the market, the
> > cost to imprison individuals in the US is significantly higher than the
> > market price of the 'commodity' output produced per prisoner.  As of
> > the average cost nationally to the state per prisoner per year was $17,
> 650.
> > Do you really think then that the market price of the 'commodity output'
> > (producing items like license plates, or grooming pets, or cleaning city
> > parks or building roads) is greater than $17,650/annum/prisoner?  (If
> > then one might say wryly -- if one believes in such fictions -- that the
> > prisoners are engaged in the production of 'negative surplus value' and
> are 'exploiting' the state! I trust though that Paul does not want to make
> that argument -- nor do I [but the possibility of negative s has been
> defended
> in past by other listmembers].)  [NB: obviously the costs of imprisonment/
> > prisoner vary very significantly internationally.]
> Obviously not Jerry.... but the aim is to create revenue to reduce the
> of prisons.


> In the process independent capitalists may make profit.

Yes, possibly, if prison labor is lent out to those capitalists (as in many
of the cases where there is corporate use of prison labor; e.g. by

> > Consequently, I would explain the cost of prisons differently: they
> > represent a deduction from surplus value paid for by taxation.
> Generally I agree.


> > A *different* form of prison labor has developed, though, in recent
> > in the US: *the corporate use of prison labor*.  Federal laws require
> I understand them) that prisoners must give consent  < ho! ho!... what is
> the real alternative for most of them without money even to buy soap?)

They don't have to buy soap generally. For some commodities, e.g. sweets
and tobacco, they would usually need money. (In the US, often these are
sold in a prison store.)

 >  for  them to be employed
>  in this  manner and that if they are producing goods that are to become
> part of "domestic commerce" then they must be paid the "prevailing wage"
> (this
> > normally means the "minimum wage").  [NB: A loophole in the law, though,
> > allows corporations to pay prison laborers below the "prevailing wage"
> > if the goods are not sold on domestic markets, i.e. if they are
> > In these cases, though, I think we are talking about  *wage-labor*
> > employed by capital -- even though there is a lack of some aspects of
> > "freedom" normally associated with wage-labour (e.g. the state obviously
> > restricts who they can be employed by).
> So now... you have not yet taken the point that  prisoners are forced into
> slave labour in many parts of the world, they produce commodities for
> running  the prisons (state or not)..... how is this different from other
> slave regimes in societies dominated by capitalism ? We have to separate
> reality from legality in our examination.

You ask how this may be different from other slave regimes under capitalism.
It might not be. It depends on the concrete circumstances.

In solidarity, Jerry

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