I recently reconnected w/ an old friend via the interwebs. We’ve moved a bit from previous common interests, me more than him perhaps, but have converged on new similar interests. Neat. Below I’m pasting in some stuff I sent him that I was trying to think out. Before that, the beach. (Ha.)

As I mentioned, I’ve been reading bits of this book The Racketeer’s Progress. Among other things, the book makes the point that there was an attack in the early 20th century on the craft economy, partly around governance. Craft producers exercised governance over their own organizations – which mean governance over each other – and over people outside their organizations. This governance rarely made use of courts and law, rather they used internal processes of decision making and assessments then made use of social/reputation pressure, economic pressure, and in some cases physical violence. Many of these actors saw themselves as the legitimate governors of their sections of the economy.


“de-commodification presumes commodification, and welfare states play an important role in commodifying people as well, women especially.” (_The Gender Division of Welfare: The Impact of the British and German Welfare States _ by Mary Daly)


I’m talking about governing/regulating the rate, manner, and interpretation/framing of the consumption of bodies by/during the production process.


I have heard some discussion among historians of “economic citizenship” (references?). The object of analysis – relative exclusion from economic participation – interests me but I don’t find citizenship a particularly useful category for this analysis. To be excluded from citizenship is to be subordinated, but to make “citizenship” into the category by which we measure lack of subordination doesn’t compel me. That said, there is one aspect of this that I do find compelling, an aspect that, I think, involves reading “economic citizenship” against the grain. To be a citizen is to be governed. Likewise to be excluded from citizenship is to be government. Rather than talking economic citizenship and who achieves it to what degree, I’d rather talk about economic governance.

In talking about economic governance, I first have in mind ideas about commodification of persons. My thinking on this has been shaped a lot by scholars of slavery, especially Walter Johnson, Stephanie Smallwood, and Amy Dru Stanley. Their work on commodification of slaves is fruitful for talking about commodification of persons in other contexts – including waged labor, and insurance.

Although I am much more interested in the category of commodification of persons than I am in economic citizenship, I would like to suggest that with both we should not primarily think of these as gradations. That is, just as I don’t want to discuss degrees of economic citizenship, I don’t want to discuss degrees or amounts of commodification. Rather, I want to discuss the hows of commodification. Perhaps I should say commodifications, or regimes or processes of commodification.

Furthermore, just as I suggested we think economic governance instead of economic citizenship, I would like to suggest that we think of commodification of persons and, in some cases, decommodification of persons as governance. Commodification of persons is, at least in all contexts I can think of, governance of persons. (In many respects, again in all contexts I can think of, commodification of goods is also governance of persons. And, in many contexts, commodification of persons and commodification of persons are mutually reinforcing. Hence Marx’s point that the working class sells its labor power for wages to purchase means of subsistence: commodification of means of subsistence compels and constitutes the commodification of labor power.) In some contexts, decommodication is also governance: traditionally feminized unwaged labors, layoffs, firings, etc.

I want to stress that governance occurs both through what we call the state and through private actors. Rather, governance occurs through and across multiple state actors (courts, commissions, legislatures, etc) and multiple private actors (employers, insurers, physicians, etc). [Linzi Manicom re: the state; Baker and Simon re: delegated sovereignty; really need to read more Foucault….]


[Quotes from here (see there for more stuff to read.)

““[P]rivate insurance can be a crucial form of delegated state power. Rather than set its own criteria for access to vital economic freedoms like operating an automobile or a business (which would be controversial and even, perhaps, unconstitutional), the state mandates that a person wishing to engage in any such activity first obtain some form of insurance. Examples include liability insurance for automobile owners, workers compensation insurance for employers, and surety bonds for companies engaged in business with the state. In most cases, the state avoids providing the insurance and thereby asks the private market – typically property-casualty insurance companies – to set the underwriting criteria that will determine access to these privileges and immunities. Motivated by controlling losses they have contracted to pay, the companies set up their own norms of conduct, which they enforce by contract terms and pricing (and, ultimately, the state judicial system).” (13.)

One implied concept here is delegated sovereignty. (…) The editors note that “insurance is a form of regulation,” one that extends into people’s homes and daily lives, “insuranceis one of the greatest sources of regulatory authority over private life.” (13.) The editors discuss this in part under the term moral hazard. “If not properly managed, insurance can reduce the incentive to be careful to avoid a loss and it can reduce the incentive to manage the cost of recovering from loss.” This leads to an understanding of “private insurance [though this is equally true of public insurance] as a form of social control.” The editors write that “control is the fulcrum for managing moral hazard. Losses over which the insured has no control do not present a moral hazard problem, because the reaction of the insured to being free from risk does not affect the odds of the loss. The less control the insured has over the loss, the more willing insurance companies are to sell insurance, and the more complete that insurance will be. Where the insurance has substantial control, however, the price for buying insurance often includes giving up a measure of that control. Insurance companies may demand that the insured institute safety procedures, undergo periodic inspections, or allow the insurance company to control the efforts taken to recover from loss. Examples include sprinkler requirements in commercial fire insurance contracts, inspection clauses in workers compensation insurance contracts, and hospitalization precertifciation clase s in health insurance contracts. When insurance companies manage moral hazard, they are regulating behavior, not simply spreading risk.” (15-16.) This should be understood in light of the editors points that they are “less interested in what is a risk than (…) in what is done in the name of risk” (18 and that “what is a risk differs across time and space, not according to an objective, scientific process, but rather according to the logic and influence of institutions.” (19.) So, it’s as much about perceptions of risk than actual risk.”]


Edit: notes on (mostly just quotes from) the Racketeer’s Progress. These notes took a lot longer than I’d expected…! More notes to take on other stuff…

Scattered notes on the Racketeer’s Progress

The craft economy “defied the corporate transformation of American capitalism” as associations in the craft economy “enacted self-styled laws that favored small, local, and labor-intensive businesses at the expense of large national firms. They enforced their laws not through the legal system but through fines, strikes, boycotts, pickets, assaults, bombings, and shootings.” The conflicts between “craft governance” and ascendant corporate governance of the economy shaped progressive era industrial/economic order. (1.)

“craft production relied more upon the skill, strength, and intelligence of workers than upon capital investments” (3)

Historians have over-emphasized labor movement “statements conceived to gain access to and protection frm the Progressive-era state. (…) portraying unions as expressing the combined will of individual members. By presenting their organizations as wholly private bodies, labor leaders hoped to earn public sympathy and evade public regulation. Union behavior contradicted this rhetoric.” AFL members and leaders held public office in astonishingly high numbers, and so were de facto part of official government, in addition to their role in craft governance. (6.)

“Craft organizations themselves acted as governments, enacting constitutions, passing bylaws, electing officers, and levying taxes. Though tradesmen signed contracts, the courts did not enforce them. This reflected not only the absence of any state-sponsored collective bargaining, but also the workers’ suspicion of judges, whom they saw as irredeemably biased. Instead, craftsmen formed their own legal systems to administer rules stipulating wages, hours, prices, and materials. Beginning in the 1890s, building-trades unions and associations began hiring “walking delegates” to represent them at the work-sites scattered around the city of Chicago. These men policed the city (…) When the walking delegate found violations, he notified the offender and attempted to negotiate a resolution. Many unions and trade associations tried defendants in their own judicial proceedings, sentencing them to fines, suspensions, and boycotts.” (7.)

“Craftsmen denied the sovereignty of the state, provoking the continual reaction of legal institutions. In the craft mind, organizations had the primary right to rule their jurisdictions. The government could be a rival or an ally, but never the sole legitimate regulatory authority.” (8.)

“With urban craft governance specifically in mind, New Deal architects enacted policies like the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) ratifying trade agreements.” (9.) [Elsewhere: “Laws like the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) expressed not corporate ideals, as scholars often assert, but rather the values of the tradesmen who had battled corporations over the definition of legitimate association. (…) the craftsmen’s agreements influenced policymakers (…) When the [Roosevelt] administration began experimenting with statutes mandating unions, associations, and agreements, craft governance served as one model for economic stabilization.” (265) “[T]he two main recovery acts of the first New Deal – the NIRA and the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) – ratified schemes existing in the craft economy. Both laws established administrative frameworks allowing the state to promote, supervise, and enforce contracts between private groups of workers and businessmen, together to form “industrial codes” (in the case of the NIRA) or “marketing agreements” (inthe case of the AAA), which set wage scales, working hours, as well as the terms for bsuiness competition. The statutes suspended antitrust laws, making it impossible for these agreements to go much farther in limiting competition than permitted before 1933. And Section 7A of NIRA specifically granted workers a right to join labor unions and participate in the code making process. Though the laws bore the imprint of many influences, the statutes clearly embodied the “economic statesmanship” envisioned” as a partial solution to problems in the craft economy (272; the economic statesmanship bit references an earlier discussion, see 267.) 280, Brandeis invented the term scientific management and opposed “limits on productivity.” (related note: http://www.archive.org/stream/TheLaborMovementAndTheNraTheStandpointOfProgressiveUnionism/NRA see p16-17; p18 talks about incorporation of unions into government, in the sense of recuperation. This was from the 22nd biennial convention of the ILGWU, in 1934 I believe.)]

“Steel manufacturers, meatpackers, wholesalers, merchants, and bankers formed a business elite. Members of this elite advocated corporate forms of organization, mechanized production, streamlined distribution, and a private economy, legally protected from the entreaties of governments, labor unions, and even trade associations. In their ideal economic order, property and productivity were the sole determinants of commercial, social, and political power.” People in the craft economy had other ideas, people whose “success depended less on capital than on connections.” (13.) States on 14 that reformers like Sinclair deliberately ommitted the craft economy from their portrayals of the urban environment, for effect, but people often look back today and fail to notice the ommission, mistaking that portrayal as actual social reality.

“The business elite loathed these trades” (21)

“At the turn of the century, Chicago’s manufacturing, merchandizing, and railroad firms were both the products and the progenitors of the most extreme forms of capitalism. In these industries, William Blake’s “Satanic mills” had indeed emerged as the dominant sites of production. In these firms, production was mechanized, ownership was corporate, and sales were national in scope. Operated by a fixed and subjected working population and managed by an increasingly powerful elite, these firms were sites of increasingly dramatic class warfare. The managers of these firms conceived a powerful political economy, which asserted for corporations the primary, if not sole, power to govern the economy.” (21.) Governance of the economy = delegated sovereignty over others.

“These firms also increased the productivity of human labor by reskilling work, breaking it into constituent parts. Between 1820 and 1900, many industries restructured their production. Meatpackers assigned each line worker a very specific part of the animal to cut and handle. “It would be difficult to imagine another industry,” economic John Commons wrote, “where the division of labor had been so ingeniously and microscopically worked out … the animal has been surveyed and laid off like a map.” These works became more complex and intrusive around the turn of the century as a new breed of “scientific managers,” led by Frederick Winslow Taylor, offered employers detailed analyses of the physical movements of workers.” (24) “Mechanization and reskilling intensified the capital requirements of manufacturing.” (25)

“Since the 1830s, the law had made corporations attractive investments by allowing stockholders to limit their liability to their actual investment.” (26.)

Women worked in industry, and “[i]n the department stores, women came to predominate as clerks and salespersons.” (28) [immaterial labor]

“Workers had few marketable skills, an employers had scant need for those they possessed. As often as possible, through machines, management, and organization, employers eradicated positions requiring significant knowledge and training. The remaining jobs fell into two general categories: semiskilled machine operatives and laborers. Both types of industrial workers found themselves poorly paid and highly replaceable, their market positions weakened by employers who needed brawn and dexterity more than intelligence or ability.” (28.) [the mass worker]

p29, the business elite as “An employer class [that] had coelesced”, capitalist class consciousness. “Common beliefs unified the business elite. Broadly speaking, manufacturers and merchants staunchly opposed any and all public governance, believing instead in a private, well-capitalized, and corporate economy. The physical manifestation of this private economy was the factory whose walls hid the workers and machines from public view; the legal embodiment of this principle was the corporation. By the turn of the century, manufacturers, merchants, bankers, and railway officials began seeing the corporation as the optimal institution for organizing business activity, proposing that it replace the individual as the constitutive unit of American economy and society, while retaining all the basic rights guaranteed to citizens. They imagined a private economic sphere, subject to the will of its owners and their representatives and exempt from all forms of regulation except the corporate law and the “natural law” of competition.” (33.)

“Taken together, corporate businessmen advocated a private economy governed by corporations assisted by the courts. They insisted upon a system of industrial relations that placed workers in a subordinate relationship to the firm and a pattern of competition, which made prices subject to each corporation’s ability to dominate the market. Although they accepted the state’s authority, they believed in strictly limiting its jurisdiction to the protection of private property rights.” (37.)

p38, craft workers characterized by mobility – also low capital investment (40); often thought of as skilled labor (39)

“Today commentators blame the decline of organized labor on the rise of the “service economy,” as if no precedent existed for unions in this sector. Yet service and retail workers aggressively organized at the beginning of the century.” (47.) [As an example to support this … according to the 1910 census, Colorado had about 800,000 people living there. I don;t know their working population. In 1903 or so, according to their state bureau of labor statistics, they had 49,000 union members in the state. Of those, 1400 belonged to various locals of the cooks and waiters union and about 2000 belonged to various locals of the retail clerks union.]

Tradesmen “began controlling the market through a patchwork of associational rules, agreements, ordinances, and alliances. Each union and association passed bylaws, which determined, for example, standard prices, locations, and legitimate workers, products, and businesses. Collective bargaining was common in the craft economy, as different groups signed agreements setting wages and hours, restricting the use of machines, and limiting the entry of new firms and workers. Rather than relying on the courts, each organization administered its own rules and agreements.” (49.)

59, barbers’ economic pressure as “craft governance.” “[C]raft orders, although privately controlled, asserted public power, claiming to be legitimate, authoritative, and exclusive governments.” (60.)

“[T]he fundamentally governmental character of craft unions affiliated with the AFL. On the one hand, this governmentality was formal. Federation conventions resembled political conventions. Member unions quarreled over jurisdiction, like different courts, commissions, departments, and states. On the floor, delegates debated the rules defining legitimate representatives, an essentially legal issue.” (63.)

“[T]he AFL (…) resembled a government in both its institutional form and in the content of its debates. Yet unions were also governments in substance. (…) “Walking delegates” policed the urban economy, strolling from worksite to worksite, enforcing rules through strikes, fines, and boycotts. This policing was a component of a broader system of craft governance (…) organizations enacted rules, asserting the right to determine which goods might be sold and who might work in Chicago. Their plans, schemes, and deals were fragile, subject to frequent challenges and routine factionalism, yet they were also potent and adaptable. ” (64.)

“Craft workers insisted that within their trades, they were the government, entitled to designate who might succeed or fail.” (65.) p66, unions calling scabs anarchists for breaking the law of the union. Buttons and insignia and membership cards, policing and signifying membership. p71-73, 96, craft government enforced by moral/public pressure, economic pressure, and violence. p74 this policed and governed the economy but members too: “an expanding regulatory apparatus that disciplined and fined union members.” Within the union, that is.

p97, craft governance was “the primary context for Progressive-era political economy.”

p100, attempt to spread craft governance, stopped by business elites, but craft governance retained the control it had over its jurisdictions.


Going over the book’s footnotes, stuff to look at:
Sklar, Corporate Reconstruction of American Capitalism
Weinstein, Corporate Ideal in the Liberal State
Wiebe, Search for Order
Zunz, Making America Corporate
Chandler, The Visible Hand
Scranton, Proprietary Capitalism
Scranton, Figured Tapestry
Montgomery, Fall of the House of Labor
Cobble, Dishing it Out
Chakrabarty, Rethinking Working Class History
Tomlins, “Why Wait for Industrialism?”
Karl, The Uneasy State
Keller, Regulating a New Economy
Livingston, “The Social Analysis of Economic History and Theory”
Forbath, Law and the Shaping of the American Labor Movement
Hattam, Labor Visions and State Power
Greene, Pure and Simple Politics
Kazin, Barons of Labor
Jacoby, Masters to Managers
Cronon, Nature’s Metropolis
Nelson, Managers and Workers
Hawley, “The Discovery and Study of a ‘Corporate Liberalism'”