washingtonsblog | One of the themes I’ve been addressing since 2008 is the neocolonial-plantation structure of the U.S. economy. The old models of colonial exploitation that optimized plantations worked by cheap imported labor (or situated in peripheral nations with plenty of cheap labor) have, beneath the surface, been adapted to advanced capitalist democracies.
The adaptations have been so successful that not only do we not even recognize the Plantation structure–we love our servitude within it.
As noted yesterday, the current mode of production optimizes the commoditization of everything: computer chips, fish and chips, labor, expertise, everything.
This commoditization optimizes the Plantation Model of integrated production, global supply chains and distribution to global marketplaces, a hierarchical management focused on maximizing profits to send back to the owners, a ruthless focus on lowering costs via labor arbitrage (commoditize the work so it can be performed anywhere labor is cheaper/more desperate) and a fanatical desire to eliminate competition or fix prices via cartels to ensure high profits.
Global capital has optimized the Plantation Model in the form of global corporations. Wal-Mart is the quintessential example. Like a classic agricultural plantation, Wal-Mart enters a region with a diverse, employment-rich ecology of small businesses and supply chains of local and regional manufacturers and distributors, and it bulldozes the entire “forest” of businesses, suppliers and distributors with the irresistible blade of integrated global supply chains and “lower prices, always.”
Wal-Mart replaces the localized economy with a low-pay, highly efficient plantation economy in which the townpeople’s only choice is to work for Wal-Mart or scrape out a living feeding the Wal-Mart workers, doing their laundry, etc.–exactly as on a classic plantation.
On a classic plantation, the wages are low and the “company store” offers easy credit, binding the workers to the corporation not just for wages but for credit.
Those few who manage to save up enough capital to start small service businesses– laundry, cafes, etc.–must do so in the shadow of the Company, which can always drive them out of business should they speak against their corporate overlords.
A once-diverse landscape is reduced to a monoculture wasteland dependent on subsidies, either implicit or explicit. Wal-Mart’s low wages leave many of its workers’ families on state aid or food stamps to survive, and so it prospers on the backs of taxpayers who subsidize its low wages.