IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Guard Labor: An Essay in Honor of Pranab Bardhan


  • Samuel Bowles

    () (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

  • Arjun Jayadev

    () (University of Massachusetts Amherst)


We explore the exercise of power in perpetuating status quo institutions. We give empirical examples of the economic importance of power and offer a definition of this elusive term. We then investigate the role of power in a modern capitalist economy, borrowing ideas from the classical economists (unproductive labor, profit-driven investment), Marx (the labor-disciplining effect of unemployment) and the contemporary theory of incomplete contracts(the role of monitoring and enforcement rents). Our model suggests that a significant portion of an economy's productive potential may be devoted to the exercise of power and to the perpetuation of social relationships of domination and subordination. We then measure these resources in labor units using the concept of guard labor, finding it to be a significant and growing fraction of the U.S. labor force. We also document substantial cross national differences in the extent of guard labor and the strong statistical association between the extent of income inequality and the fraction of the labor force that is constituted by guard labor. We close with some speculations concerning the role of guard labor in the process of economic development and how economies might function better with more carrot and less stick.

Suggested Citation

  • Samuel Bowles & Arjun Jayadev, 2004. "Guard Labor: An Essay in Honor of Pranab Bardhan," UMASS Amherst Economics Working Papers 2004-15, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:ums:papers:2004-15

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ernst Fehr & Simon Gächter, 2000. "Fairness and Retaliation: The Economics of Reciprocity," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(3), pages 159-181, Summer.
    2. Raphael, Steven & Winter-Ember, Rudolf, 2001. "Identifying the Effect of Unemployment on Crime," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 44(1), pages 259-283, April.
    3. Bowles, Samuel & Gintis, Herbert, 1988. "Contested Exchange: Political Economy and Modern Economic Theory," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 78(2), pages 145-150, May.
    4. Arjun Jayadev, "undated". "Estimating Guard Labor," Working Papers 7, University of Massachusetts Boston, Economics Department.
    5. Aghion, Philippe & Tirole, Jean, 1997. "Formal and Real Authority in Organizations," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 105(1), pages 1-29, February.
    6. Marcel Fafchampsm & Måns Söderbom, 2006. "Wages and Labor Management in African Manufacturing," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 41(2).
    7. Bardhan, Pranab & Bowles, Samuel & Gintis, Herbert, 2000. "Wealth inequality, wealth constraints and economic performance," Handbook of Income Distribution,in: A.B. Atkinson & F. Bourguignon (ed.), Handbook of Income Distribution, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 10, pages 541-603 Elsevier.
    8. Lundberg, Shelly & Pollak, Robert A, 1993. "Separate Spheres Bargaining and the Marriage Market," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 101(6), pages 988-1010, December.
    9. Armin Falk & Ernst Fehr & Urs Fischbacher, 2003. "On the Nature of Fair Behavior," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 41(1), pages 20-26, January.
    10. Bowles, Samuel & Gordon, David M & Weisskopf, Thomas E, 1989. "Business Ascendancy and Economic Impasse: A Structural Retrospective on Conservative Economics, 1979-87," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 3(1), pages 107-134, Winter.
    11. Schor, Juliet B & Bowles, Samuel, 1987. "Employment Rents and the Incidence of Strikes," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 69(4), pages 584-592, November.
    12. Basu, Kaushik, 2003. "Prelude to Political Economy: A Study of the Social and Political Foundations of Economics," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199261857, June.
    13. Toufique, Kazi Ali, 1997. "Some observations on power and property rights in the inland fisheries of Bangladesh," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 25(3), pages 457-467, March.
    14. Giorgio Brosio & Harold M. Hochman (ed.), 0. "economic justice," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, volume 0, number 1340.
    15. Roger Myerson & Serguey Braguinsky, 2005. "Oligarchic Property Rights and Investment," 2005 Meeting Papers 49, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    16. Bowles, Samuel, 1986. "The Production Process in a Competitive Economy: Reply," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(5), pages 1203-1204, December.
    17. Lanjouw, Peter & Stern, Nicholas, 1998. "Economic Development in Palanpur over Five Decades," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198288329.
    18. Gordon, David M, 1994. "Bosses of Different Stripes: A Cross-National Perspective on Monitoring and Supervision," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(2), pages 375-379, May.
    19. George P. Baker & Thomas N. Hubbard, 2003. "Make Versus Buy in Trucking: Asset Ownership, Job Design, and Information," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(3), pages 551-572, June.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Blog mentions

    As found by, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Anti-Star Trek: A Theory of Posterity
      by Peter Frase in peter frase on 2010-12-14 22:27:31
    2. Future legends
      by Rob Horning in Marginal Utility (Tom Bozzo) (The New Inquiry) on 2012-06-15 23:39:08
    3. Guards, Workers, Machines
      by Peter Frase in Peter Frase on 2014-02-17 23:27:10


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Arjun Jayadev, "undated". "Estimating Guard Labor," Working Papers 7, University of Massachusetts Boston, Economics Department.

    More about this item


    enforcement rents; institutions; guard labor; supervision; social conflict; labor-management;

    JEL classification:

    • O17 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Formal and Informal Sectors; Shadow Economy; Institutional Arrangements
    • P50 - Economic Systems - - Comparative Economic Systems - - - General
    • N32 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-
    • B52 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Current Heterodox Approaches - - - Historical; Institutional; Evolutionary
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:ums:papers:2004-15. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Daniele Girardi). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.