A 21st-Century Form of Indentured Servitude Has Already Penetrated Deep into the American Heartland

By Thom Hartmann. a talk-show host and author of over 25 books in print.. Originally published at AlterNet.

Indentured servitude is back in a big way in the United States, and conservative corporatists want to make sure that labor never, ever again has the power to tell big business how to treat them.

Idaho, for example, recently passed a law that recognizes and rigorously enforces non-compete agreements in employment contracts, which means that if you want to move to a different, more highly paid, or better job, you can instead get wiped out financially by lawsuits and legal costs.

In a way, conservative/corporatists are just completing the circle back to the founding of this country.

Indentured servitude began in a big way in the early 1600s, when the British East India Company was establishing a beachhead in the (newly stolen from the Indians) state of Virginia (named after the “virgin queen” Elizabeth I, who signed the charter of the BEIC creating the first modern corporation in 1601). Jamestown (named after King James, who followed Elizabeth I to the crown) wanted free labor, and the African slave trade wouldn’t start to crank up for another decade.

So the company made a deal with impoverished Europeans: Come to work for typically 4-7 years (some were lifetime indentures, although those were less common), legally as the property of the person or company holding your indenture, and we’ll pay for your transport across the Atlantic.

It was, at least philosophically, the logical extension of the feudal economic and political system that had ruled Europe for over 1,000 years. The rich have all the rights and own all the property; the serfs are purely exploitable free labor who could be disposed of (indentured servants, like slaves, were commonly whipped, hanged, imprisoned, or killed when they rebelled or were not sufficiently obedient).

This type of labor system has been the dream of conservative/corporatists, particularly since the “Reagan Revolution” kicked off a major federal war on the right of workers to organize for their own protection from corporate abuse.

Unions represented almost a third of American workers when Reagan came into office (and, since union jobs set local labor standards, for every union job there was typically an identically-compensated non-union job, meaning about two-thirds of America had the benefits and pay associated with union jobs pre-Reagan).

Thanks to Reagan’s war on labor, today unions represent about 6 percent of the non-government workforce.

But that wasn’t enough for the acolytes of Ayn Rand, Ronald Reagan and Milton Friedman. They didn’t just want workers to lose their right to collectively bargain; they wanted employers to functionally own their employees.

Prior to the current Reaganomics era, non-compete agreements were pretty much limited to senior executives and scientists/engineers.

If you were a CEO or an engineer for a giant company, knowing all their processes, secrets and future plans, that knowledge had significant and consequential value—company value worth protecting with a contract that said you couldn’t just take that stuff to a competitor without either a massive payment to the left-behind company or a flat-out lawsuit.

But should a guy who digs holes with a shovel or works on a drilling rig be forced to sign a non-compete? What about a person who flips burgers or waits tables in a restaurant? Or the few factory workers we have left, since neoliberal trade policies have moved the jobs of tens of thousands of companies overseas?

Turns out corporations are using non-competes to prevent even these types of employees from moving to newer or better jobs.

America today has the lowest minimum wage in nearly 50 years, adjusted for inflation. As a result, people are often looking for better jobs. But according to the New York Times, about 1 in 5 American workers is now locked in with a non-compete clause in an employment contract.

Before Reaganomics, employers didn’t keep their employees by threatening them with lawsuits; instead, they offered them benefits like insurance, paid vacations and decent wages. Large swaths of American workers could raise a family and have a decent retirement with a basic job ranging from manufacturing to construction to service industry work.

My dad was one of them; he worked 40 years in a tool-and-die shop, and the machinist’s union made sure he could raise and put through school four boys, could take 2-3 weeks of paid vacation every year, and had full health insurance and a solid retirement until the day he died, which continued with my mom until she died years later. Most boomers (particularly white boomers) can tell you the same story.

That America has been largely destroyed by Reaganomics, and Americans know it. It’s why when Donald Trump told voters that the big corporations and banksters were screwing them, they voted for him and his party (not realizing that neither Trump nor the GOP had any intention of doing anything to help working people).

And now the conservatives/corporatists are going in for the kill, for their top goal: the final destruction of any remnant of labor rights in America.

Why would they do this? Two reasons: An impoverished citizenry is a politically impotent citizenry, and in the process of destroying the former middle class, the 1 percent make themselves trillions of dollars richer.

The New York Times has done some great reporting on this problem, with an article last May and a more recent piece about how the state of Idaho has made it nearly impossible for many workers to escape their servitude.

Historically, indentured servants had their food, health care, housing, and clothing provided to them by their “employers.” Today’s new serfs can hardly afford these basics of life, and when you add in modern necessities like transportation, education and child-care, the American labor landscape is looking more and more like old-fashioned servitude.

Nonetheless, conservatives/corporatists in Congress and state-houses across the nation are working hard to hold down minimum wages. Missouri’s Republican legislature just made it illegal for St. Louis to raise their minimum wage to $10/hour, throwing workers back down to $7.70. More preemption laws like this are on the books or on their way.

At the same time, these conservatives/corporatists are working to roll back health care protections for Americans, roll back environmental protections that keep us and our children from being poisoned, and even roll back simple workplace, food and toy safety standards.

The only way these predators will be stopped is by massive political action leading to the rollback of Reaganism/neoliberalism.

And the conservatives/corporatists who largely own the Republican Party know it, which is why they’re purging voting lists, fighting to keep in place easily hacked voting machines, and throwing billions of dollars into think tanks, right-wing radio, TV, and online media.

If they succeed, America will revert to a very old form of economy and politics: the one described so well in Charles Dickens’ books when Britain had “maximum wage laws” and “Poor Laws” to prevent a strong and politically active middle class from emerging.

Conservatives/corporatists know well that this type of neo-feudalism is actually a very stable political and economic system, and one that’s hard to challenge. China has put it into place in large part, and other countries from Turkey to the Philippines to Brazil and Venezuela are falling under the thrall of the merger of corporate and state power.

So many of our individual rights have been stripped from us, so much of America’s middle-class progress in the last century has been torn from us, while conservatives wage a brutal and oppressive war on dissenters and people of color under the rubrics of “security,” “tough on crime,” and the “war on drugs.”

As a result, America has 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, more than any other nation on earth, all while opiate epidemics are ravaging our nation. And what to do about it?

Scientists have proven that the likelihood the desires of the bottom 90 percent of Americans get enacted into law are now equal to statistical “random noise.” Functionally, most of us no longer have any real representation in state or federal legislative bodies: they now exist almost exclusively to serve the very wealthy.

The neo-feudal corporate/conservative elite are both politically and financially committed to replacing the last traces of worker power in America with a modern system of indentured servitude.

Only serious and committed political action can reverse this; we’re long past the point where complaining or sitting on the sidelines is an option.

As both Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama regularly said (and I’ve closed my radio show for 14 years with), “Democracy is not a spectator sport.”

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. griffen

    Wait, no mention of the Clinton administration and those Rubin acolytes? I find that hard to believe, those 8 years in the 90s were significant for today’s outsized CEO pay and incentives.

    1. Carolinian

      Indeed it’s called neoliberalism because the people who advocated for it considered themselves liberals. The reason labor has fallen behind is that the party that is supposed to be their champion lost interest in the labor movement. In fact the deregulation mania started with Carter, and some hard core liberals lost their seats during the same period, spooking the rest.

      1. jrs

        no, it’s called neoliberal because it traces it’s origins to what in the 19th century (and in Europe still I believe) was called liberalism.

        I think saying the reason labor fell behind is because the Dem party lost interest in labor is putting the cart before the horse, although I realize cart and horse issues are debatable. I think it’s more the point of the article: labor lost power in the workplace etc. (for complex reasons but part of it was a direct attack on it of course) and then because it lost power it was in little position to influence the Dem party or much of anything else.

          1. Grebo

            Nope. Charles Peters’s Neoliberalism is not what we commonly mean by Neoliberalism today.

            Origin of Neoliberalism Part 1
            Part 2

            Peter’s effort to resurrect the New Deal fizzled out after a few years, unlike the other mob’s opposite intent which still rules the world.

            1. Carolinian

              You are arguing with Corey Robin (see Jacobin above), not me. And Peters’ many journalistic proteges are still very much around. They served as the spear carriers for this current political movement which is a resurrection of some earlier ideas that called themselves neoliberal. Here’s Wikipedia

              Another center-left movement from modern American liberalism that used the term “neoliberalism” to describe its ideology formed in the United States in the 1970s. According to David Brooks, prominent neoliberal politicians included Al Gore and Bill Clinton of the Democratic Party of the United States. The neoliberals coalesced around two magazines, The New Republic and the Washington Monthly. The “godfather” of this version of neoliberalism was the journalist Charles Peters who in 1983 published “A Neoliberal’s Manifesto”.


              Which is to say it took a journalistic/political movement to make Friedman–Pinochet’s economic architect–respectable. Peters was at the center of this “rethink” of liberalism.

              1. Grebo

                I’ll argue with anyone (don’t know Corey Robin from Adam). I think some people, including Chait, are confused. Or there is an attempt at misdirection going on. When I last read the Wikipedia page it was clear that he word ‘Neoliberal’ has had several meanings and referred to several different things over the years.
                My point is that the Neoliberalism we all rail against these days is the right-wing, corporate reinvention of classical Liberalism started by Hayek and Friedman that has been screwing up our world for the last 40 years, not some all-but-forgotten centre-left journalistic attempt to bring back the New Deal by writing manifestos in the 80s. These things are not the same.

              2. animalogic

                The exact history, ideology, techniques etc of “Neoliberalism” is, naturally, very important.
                However, reduced to its bare bones, neoliberalism is easy to understand:
                Neoliberalism tends to pose as a set of economic theories. Such theories are merely contingent. Neoliberalism is a political movement that employs “economics” as a tool (& mask) to aggregate wealth & power.
                It is a movement to transfer maximum wealth & power upwards to a small minority. It sees society as an object of exploitation. The purpose of government is to both exploit society directly & to facilitate its exploitation by the elite minority. It “cares” about society, individuals only to the extent that there be no major impediment to exploitation.
                Neoliberalism may be compared to (neo)feudalism or Oligarchy, in so far as either system was about the maintenance of a space in which the strong can freely exploit the weak.
                “Only serious and committed political action can reverse this; we’re long past the point where complaining or sitting on the sidelines is an option.”
                The above might be called an understatement for the history books.
                Such committed political action will have to be, by the very nature of the enemy it opposes, “revolutionary”.
                Please believe me in this: the current world Oligarchy (of which the US Oligarchy believes itself to be the natural leader) will not retreat an inch unless forced. It believes absolutely in its own right to rule: it is not like the old Soviet leadership which had secretly lost faith in its own legitimacy.
                However, as 2007 proves, its own corruption, its own material internal contradictions will cause variously serious levels of future breakdown, whether they be mainly economic, military or environmental.
                It is the job of working people to be ready to take advantage of such breakdowns. How ? The Grass Level organisation of modern socialist political groups, committed to the humanism, economic & social justice & direct democracy.
                Yes, I can hear the laughter or gnashing of teeth of many readers. It’s always easy to say such things, but diabolically hard to do.
                Of course we could all just keep voting democrat, or labour party etc & “complaining or sitting on the sidelines” when we get another Obama, or another Blair etc.

              3. relstprof

                Re-read Robin’s essay. He qualifies his use of “neoliberalism” throughout the essay; neoliberalism “in part“. In part it refers to the American writers of the late 70s, but there is a long backstory documented by David Harvey and Philip Mirowski among others. The Mont Perelin group of 1947 re-fashioned classical liberal economics of the Enlightenment, thus the idea of neo-liberalism as opposed to Keynesian capitalism, etc.

                The Wikipedia article makes this clear by noting neoliberal policies in Argentina, Chile, etc. before the American writers even penned their articles. Wikipedia cites the relevant scholarship, including Harvey and Mirowski.

                This isn’t about American Democratic liberalism per se, it’s about an economics and politics that has had worldwide ramifications.

                And yes, Chait is wrong and his essay ridiculous.

                1. Carolinian

                  This isn’t about American Democratic liberalism per se

                  Isn’t it? It goes without saying that the US has become the culturally dominant force in the post WW2 world. Before there was New Labour there were the New Dems who, as David Brooks says, took their cues from magazines like The New Republic under Peretz. Economic theories mean little unless their is a political movement to enact them.

                  But regardless of the definitional debate the essential point is that the people who call themselves neoliberals tend to be the center-left–the “liberals.” Conservatives on the other hand call themselves conservatives (or more recently paleo-conservatives). Which was my original point. Neoliberalism coopted the left, brought it under the oligarchic tent.

            2. Dune Navigator

              I am very guilty of giving away copies of this to my friends and relatives.
              A Brief History of Neoliberalism by David Harvey

              Pick up a copy yourselves!

      2. digi_owl

        I have found it easier to disentangle this mess of terminology if i apply the social and economic prefixes.

        Meaning that if two different people label themselves liberal, one may be social liberal and another may be economic liberal.

        With social liberal being the ones being all about equal rights, social security etc etc, and economic liberals being all about minimal to non-existent regulation of economic interactions etc.

        And in this sense neoliberalism is very much economic liberalism.

  2. WheresOurTeddy

    First-Term Reagan Baby approves this post. New Deal was under attack before FDR’s body got cold. Truman instead of Wallace in the VP slot in ’44 was a dark day for humanity.

    Remember the Four Freedoms.

  3. Disturbed Voter

    To keep doing what doesn’t work, is insane. So keep voting for your incumbents! Not!

  4. BoycottAmazon

    Then there is probation board / court bonds slavery. The slave is captured by the police, then chained to debt and papers first by a bond and then later upon “early” release to a probation officer. The slave has restrictions on his freedom by the probation orders, and must make good the money owed the bondsman and the court ordered fines. The slaves work for the benefit of the political and monied class who don’t need to pay much if any tax burden for all their government delivered goods thanks to this system of slavery.

  5. DanB

    Hartmann closes with, “As both Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama regularly … ‘Democracy is not a spectator sport’.” Hello Thom: Sanders has twisted himself with pretzel logic regarding neoliberalism and Obama is a full-blown neoliberal (who you seem to forget admired Ronald Reagan).

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, Dan.

      That sentence also caught my attention and reminded me of John Kennedy junior’s George magazine, marketing “politics as a lifestyle choice” and featuring Cindy Crawford on the inaugural cover. Allied to the MSM’s obsession with identity politics, as a neo-liberal and neo-con driver of news, one is soon distracted from, if not disgusted with, what’s going on. Thank God for (the) Naked Capitalism (community).

    2. Livius Drusus

      Yeah like Obama cared about unions and workers’ rights. What happened to EFCA? What happened to the comfy shoes Obama said he would wear to walk with public sector workers in Wisconsin? Obama never fought for workers but he fought like hell for the TPP even going on Jimmy Fallon’s show and slow jamming for it.

      Obama is like the rest of the neoliberal Democrats. They think that unions and workers’ rights are anti-meritocratic. Unions are only good for money and foot soldiers during the election. After the election they are basically told to get bent.

      1. lyman alpha blob

        Yes thanks for mentioning the EFCA. I’m so old I remember when the Democrat party campaigned hard on that – “If you give us back the majority in Congress blah blah blah….”. And as soon as they won said majority they never mentioned it again.

    3. Roger Smith

      Precisely. I mentioned below the sort of awkward 10ft distance from Democrats in this post. This last sentiment really stood out to me like a sore thumb. I smell rose tinted glasses.

    4. HBE

      Well, it is alternet. Which has largely turned into kos lite over the last several years.

      Although the post does give some good pre 1980 stats and figures, an “it’s all those horrible mean republicans fault, dems are saviors” bent can always be expected from kos lite.

    5. Dirk77

      Yes. I thank Hartmann for pointing out the latest power grabs by our corporate masters. Still, his ignoring Clinton, Obama and the rest just puts him in with all the other political tribalists, who by their tribalism distract from the main problems – and their ultimate solutions. It’s a class war, Thom, The Only War That Matters.

    6. Deloss Brown

      (sigh) I don’t know why I should have to keep repeating this. Barack Obama, that evil neo-liberal, is not President. Hillary Clinton is not President. The President is a man named Donald Trump, who has been trying for the last couple of months, with all his might and main, to take health care away from millions of people, many of whom got it for the first time under Evil Barack Obama.

      A recent survey revealed that 45% of Trump voters still believe it would be fine if Trump shot a random passer-by on Fifth Avenue. 26% were unsure. 17% of those who voted for Gary Johnson were cool with the idea of Trump shooting someone. Fortunately for me, I don’t shop on Fifth Avenue much.

      I think a certain number of NC readers should throw out last year’s calendar, and maybe look at the front pages of a few newspapers.

      I apologize if my comments seem condescending and insulting. But some of the posts on here raise my blood pressure, so I think we’re even.


      1. Outis Philalithopoulos

        This poll is just silly.

        Any illusions about its nonpartisanship go up on smoke upon reading, at the top of their report, the headline “Many Trump Voters in Denial on Russia.”

        The question about shooting someone on Fifth Avenue (Q53) is followed immediately by two others quoting from the Declaration of Independence in an attempt to get Trump voters to describe him as George III and so produce more clickbait.

        The fact that 10% of Hillary voters also said that they might approve of Trump if he shot someone (“approve” + “not sure” responses) ought to raise serious questions about this sort of methodology. The number rises to 37% for those who didn’t vote for any of Trump, Clinton, Johnson, or Stein.

        If the purpose of the authors was simply to show that large numbers of voters are subhuman and so maybe we should reconsider our attachment to democracy, then they could probably have gotten even more impressive results by tailoring the questions according to partisan affiliation. I wonder what the results would be on a survey question like, “Suppose Obama were to shoot someone on 5th Avenue and then run for president against Trump in 2020 (assuming this were legal). Whom would you support?”

        However, my guess is that a lot of the “approves” are simply respondents trolling the pollsters.

        On “throwing out last year’s calendar,” few seem eager to do this in a non-selective way. Many of those uninterested in looking at postmortems of the HRC campaign are fascinated by other campaign details, as long as they feature someone speaking Russian.

      2. Lambert Strether Post author

        > I don’t know why I should have to keep repeating this

        Here, let me help you. You don’t have to repeat anything, since your comment is completely off-point to DanB’s. So stop.

    7. Vatch

      One can disagree with Obama or Sanders about various issues, but democracy is definitely not a spectator sport. People need to vote in both primary and general elections, and not just in the big Presidential years. People need to vote in midterm primary and general elections, as well as the elections in odd numbered years, if their states have such elections.

      They also need to actively support good candidates, and communicate their opinions to the politicians who hold office. Periodically, people post comments about the futility of voting, or they say that not voting is a way to send a message. Nonsense! Failure to participate is not a form of participation, it’s just a way of tacitly approving of the status quo.

      1. Eureka Springs

        Well I hope I can disagree with you that this here republic is a democracy. There isn’t even a party I can think of which operates democratically.

        Supporting a good candidate is asking people to participate in spectator sport-like activity. The people, party members, should determine a platform and the candidate/office holder should be obligated to sell/enact/administrate it.

        The rich tell their politicians/parties what to do… so should the rest of us.

        1. Vatch

          “I can disagree with you that this here republic is a democracy.”

          Fair enough. The United States is no longer a representative democracy (and it was only that way occasionally in the past); it’s currently an oligarchic plutocracy. But if we hope to regain any semblance of a representative democracy, we need to actively participate. There are many reasons why we’ve degenerated into a plutocracy, and one of those reasons is that people don’t participate enough.

          “Supporting a good candidate is asking people to participate in spectator sport-like activity”

          Sure, if people don’t participate in the primary process, all they have to choose from in the general election is a couple of tools of the oligarchs. They also need to do many of the things in the quote from Howard Zinn that Alejandro provided.

      2. Alejandro

        “If democracy were to be given any meaning, if it were to go beyond the limits of capitalism and nationalism, this would not come, if history were any guide, from the top. It would come through citizen’s movements, educating, organizing, agitating, striking, boycotting, demonstrating, threatening those in power with disruption of the stability they needed.”–Howard Zinn

        AND this:

        ” Democracy is not a spectator sport.”– Lotte Scharfman

      3. zapster

        With TPTB completely ignoring the voter suppression, illegal purges, machine flipping, unverifiable hackable systems and gerrymandering? Good candidates don’t stand a chance until we take back the election systems.

  6. Thuto

    I comment from a faraway country, gripped by the fear that Corporate America has proven very astute at marketing its brand of repressive corporate practices against labour as “best practice”, fearful that I hear the murmurings of just this type of enslavement of labour as “just what the country needs to drive growth” from the demagogues masquerading as the “official opposition” in my country. The tentacles of this type of neo-feudalism unfortunately now reach far beyond America’s borders…

      1. Thuto

        Colonel Smithers, I comment from South Africa, where, despite being only 16 and too young to vote, nonetheless walked, with excitement and anticipation, to the voting stations with my older siblings for our first democratic elections post apartheid. It’s been 23 years, Nelson Mandela has died, and we are now hemmed in between revolutionaries who ascended to power and morphed into kleptocrats who loot the fiscus like it’s their own private piggy bank, and apartheid era elites who’ve repositioned themselves as progressives who ostensibly champion the cause of the people. These demagogues are today the official opposition (and to placate the black majority have placed the obligatory black face “in charge”) that is funded by and advances the neoliberal agenda of the apartheid era elite (who continue to sit atop a racially stratified economy and have been well schooled in the American brand of “corporate best practice”). Gutting labour rights is at the top of their agenda, and because they pretty much own the media, they have a willing echo chamber that “cries wolf” 24/7 about how failure to allow them to run an exploitation racket is “bad for growth, drives away foreign investors and is ultimately bad for all of us blahblahblah”…

        1. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you, Thuto.

          I visit regularly and have observed (since my first visit in 1991).

          I often read Patrick Bond’s dispatches from SA on Counterpunch.

          SA’s oligarchs are diversifying into the UK, including loan sharking.

          1. Colonel Smithers

            I forgot to mention that when I first came to the City, mid-1990s, and came across (white)South Africans professionally, I noticed the class differences, including swipes and not so discrete insults, and wondered if class politics will ever overcome racial politics. Same for / with Northern Ireland.

            1. PlutoniumKun

              On the point of Northern Ireland, a couple of weeks ago I was talking to a friend of mine from the protestant community (at least originally). But his lifestyle is, shall we say, distinctly non-biblical and he and his wife regularly partake of activities that would have the average DUP member frothing at the mouth. And in most other things, he and his wife would be very typical urban cosmopolitan hipster types.

              I casually made a joke about Arlene Foster (I seem to be doing a lot of this lately) and he casually said ‘yeah, I hate her, I really felt terrible voting for her’. I was pretty startled. He looked at me and said ‘oh yeah, I know, but the alternative was letting in the Sinn Fein candidate, so what else could I do?’ He seemed to think I’d understand.

              So yeah, sectarian politics will take generations to die out there.

            2. Thuto

              Colonel Smithers, I’m near 40 now and I don’t see it happening in my lifetime. In 1993 when it became clear that a political transition was inevitable, white South Africans became anxious and black south africans, for obvious reasons, became excited. Vis a vis the economy, the roles have largely reversed, black people are anxious again (not much has changed re: ownership of the economy and being black, for many, means a bleak future) and white south africans have swung to the other side of the pendulum because they noticed, with relief, that their hands had hardly moved from the levers of (economic) power. With exceptions here and there, race is largely a proxy for class in SA in any event so the line tends to be very blurry between the two brands of politics. It’s a beautiful country though so do continue to visit :-)

              1. Irrational

                We also travelled to your beautiful country last year and found it quite striking how all the B&B owners were white and all the staff black. Some very impressive ones among them, still it will be a long way.

  7. David, by the lake

    As others have pointed out already, it is important to note that corporatism is not a uniquely Republican characteristic.

  8. Roger Smith

    Great post, although I think it goes a little out of its way to ignore referencing Democrats as an equal part of the problem, as they too are “conservative/corporatists”. Party politics is theater for the plebes, nothing more. These “people” have the same values and desires.

  9. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you to Lambert. Indentured labourers were also used by the French colonial ventures, including Mauritius / Ile Maurice, known as Isle de France when under French rule from 1715 – 1810.

    Many of the labourers lived alongside slaves and, later, free men and women. They also intermarried, beginning what are now called Creoles in the Indian Ocean, Caribbean and Louisiana. I am one of their descendants.

    In 1936, my great grandfather and others, mainly Creoles, founded the Labour Party in Mauritius. A year later, they organised the first strike, a general, which resulted in four sugar factory workers being shot and killed at Union-Flacq sugar estate. From what my grandmother and her aunt and sister, all of whom used to knit banners and prepare food and drink for the 1 May, and my father report, it’s amazing and depressing to see the progress of the mid-1930s to 1970s being rolled back. It’s also depressing to hear from so many, let’s call them the 10%, criticise trade unions and think that progress was achieved by magic. Plutonium Kun wrote about that recently.

  10. 19battlehill

    Thom – I agree with your outrage; however, the truth is that economically the US has been broke since the 1970’s and it doesn’t matter. Nothing will change until our we have an honest monetary system, and until unearned income is tax properly – the rich have gotten richer and corporations have hijacked our government, whining about it does nothing, this will go on until something breaks and then we will see what happens.

  11. cnchal

    What is going on in Idaho? Why would the state politicians do such a thing?

    From the Idaho link which is the NY Times, reveals the real reason. Believe it or not.

    “We’re trying to build the tech ecosystem in Boise,” said George Mulhern, chief executive of Cradlepoint, a company here that makes routers and other networking equipment. “And anything that would make somebody not want to move here or start a company here is going to slow down our progress.”

    Alex LaBeau, president of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, a trade group that represents many of the state’s biggest employers, countered: “This is about companies protecting their assets in a competitive marketplace.”

    Alex doesn’t get irony.

    What price discovery? Where are economists on this? Why are they radio silent? To paraphrase Franklin, a market, if you can keep it.

    Again and again and again, we see narcissist lawyer/politicians doing stuff that is completely demented, from a normal person’s point of view. They will be gone in a few years, but the idiotic laws remain.

    1. Arizona Slim

      Note the use of the word “ecosystem.” A bullshhhh tell if there ever was one.

    2. jrs

      Tech is neither here nor there in it, I mean they say being able to leave jobs easily was a tech advantage in California where people could leave to start new businesses etc.. So I’m not sure how tech actually lines up on it, and it’s almost not the point, even when it does good it’s no substitute for an organization that really represents labor. It might be better in California due to tech pressure, but probably mostly because it’s a deep blue state, which tends to make places slightly more tolerable places to live. Well as much as we’re going to get when what we really need is socialists in the legislature but … nonetheless.

      Yes these practices are slavery. Indentured servitude is almost too polite, but I get it’s more P.C..

    3. Tom G.

      I imagine that a few companies will move to Idaho to take advantage of the favorable legal climate, and will leave even more quickly when they can’t recruit the talent they need.

      Speaking as a Software Engineer, the only impact this new law has is to put Idaho at the top of my list of “places I won’t consider for relocation.”

      1. Dale

        As having lived in Idaho I can tell you unless you are a business owner like I was you dont want to be there, its bottom of all 50 states for wages and the general populace complain all the time about low pay and being shafted by their employers. I was a corporation of 1 and needed nothing from anyone in the state as I was selling exclusively online.

    4. MG

      Mulhern is an idiot then because there is a fair amount of evidence that CA’s lax enforcement and very skeptical enforcement of non competes is an important factor on why Silicon Valley has thrived. My sense is that this is purely to protect the status quo among large local employers and nothing to do with growing the local ecosystem or smaller firms.

      Good luck trying to recruit top-flight talent especially engineers/programmers to Boise with most companies have a vigorous year or 2-year non-competes in place.

      1. cnchal

        > Mulhern is an idiot . . .

        Ultimately, Idahoans will shoot themselves in the asses, never mind assets. I know “ecosystem” is a bullshit tell but it’s another word for network effects and the network is short circuited by these laws.

        Laws preventing an employee from leaving means there is less mixing of talent, making everyone worse off. That’s how we learn, getting in there and doing it, whatever it is, and by moving to another employer you transfer and pick up knowledge and experience.

        What makes it farcical, is that Big Co Management never envisions itself in their employees shoes.

    5. Mike G

      “And anything that would make somebody not want to move here or start a company here is going to slow down our progress.”

      He’s right, but in the wrong way. Idaho’s new feudal employment laws ensure I will never move there for a tech job.

  12. RenoDino

    The vast majority of the labor market is shifting gears to function as the servant class to the very rich.
    It is a painful transition as recent gains in labor rights are lost. Becoming a willing supplicant and attaching oneself to a rich and powerful family is the best way to better one’s prospects. The last 70 years was an aberration. It will not return, short of a major uprising. Given the state’s security apparatus that prospect is extremely unlikely.

  13. Anti Schmoo

    Not a Thom Hartmann fanboy; he deals in glittering generalities and treats serious subject matter in a deeply superficial manner.
    Having been a Teamster in warehousing and metal trades; they were corrupt and in management’s pocket in those places I worked.
    I’m a huge proponent for labor and the ideal of labor unions (as imagined by the wobblies); not the reality on the ground today.
    And I do not agree with Thom’s Indentured servitude meme; he gives no real examples, just generalities.
    I would submit that a neo-feudal system is the fact on the ground. The difference; a serf has land (and yes, he’s attached to it), a house, and a modicum of freedom; as long as he takes care of his lord.
    Usian’s are now, in fact, prisoners of war. Living in a broken system where voting no longer counts; the very back bone of a democratic society. The “two” parties have merged into one entity looking very much like the ouroboros (a snake eating its tail).
    All information is managed; and this includes the unemployment figures; pure fiction by the way.
    An indentured servant has work; 20 million(?) or more Usians have no work, and little hope of finding meaningful employment.
    The importance of this can not be underestimated; human dignity is at stake; we’re a society brought up on the importance of being “gainfully” employed.
    Our society is being intentionally crushed to make us serfs in a neo-feudal society.

  14. RickM

    20+ years ago in Athens, GA, there was a local chicken place. Good food if you like that kind of thing. Come to find the employees who fried the chicken and worked the service counter were forbidden by the language of their “contracts” to quit for a dollar an hour more at another local restaurant. The first company didn’t actually have the means to take its former employees to court, but they had the “right” to do so. Bill Clinton, neoliberal to his rotten core, was happily the president, feeling our pain. And his own, courtesy of Newt Gingrich et al.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, Rick.

      It was not just our pain that Clinton and Nootie were feeling…

      Speaking of Mr Bill, his family’s role in Haiti, amongst other places reduced to penury, should earn them a place in infamy.

  15. oaf

    “we’re long past the point where complaining or sitting on the sidelines is an option.”

    …but marches and *Occupy*s (sp?) FEEL SO GOOD!!! …like we are ACTUALLY MAKING A DIFFERENCE!

    1. jrs

      he didn’t suggest that, maybe that’s what he meant, maybe somewhere else in his communications he says that, but it’s not in the article.

      Yes a problem is people don’t know where or even how to apply any sort of pressure to change things

      But one plus of these things being somewhat decided on the state level, is it is more obvious how to go about change there than with the Fed gov where things seem almost hopeless, try to elect people who stand against these policies for instance, easier done some places than others of course, but …

    2. jawbon

      Occupy did make a difference, at least in how the public paying attention mostly to broadcast news and the “important” newspapers were concerned. Young people, especially, began to realize what they were up against in this corporatized economy where all the power went to the wealthy.

      I’ll bet a lot of Occupiers actually began to understand just what Neoliberalism meant!

      And the amount of planning and effort the Obama WH spent organizing the Federal agencies and state/local governments to shut down the Occupy encampments indicated to me just how much they feared the effects of Occupy.

      1. different clue

        Well . . . Occupy was clearly making enough of a difference that the Obama Administration worked with the 18 Democratic Party Mayors of 18 different cities to stamp it out with heavy police stompout presence. The Zucotti clearout in NYC, for example, was just exactly the way Obama liked it done.

  16. Enquiring Mind

    People subject to politicians should begin a coordinated effort to use a common approach to get the truth. Demand transparency, with all campaign contributions, lobbyist contacts, voting records, committee memberships and such all in one place. Use that information to provide a score to show the degree of voter representation. Not sure how that would work, just brainstorming to try some new approach as current ones have failed.

  17. Vatch

    A couple of months ago, this article was published:


    These days, even janitors are being required to sign non-compete clauses

    When Krishna Regmi started work as a personal care aide for a Pittsburgh home health agency in 2015, he was given a stack of paperwork to sign. “They just told us, ‘It’s just a formality, sign here, here, here,’ ” he said.

    Regmi didn’t think much of it. That is, until he quit his job nine months later and announced his decision to move to a rival agency — and his ex-employer sued him for violating a noncompete clause Regmi says he didn’t know he had signed. The agreement barred Regmi from working as a personal care aide at another home health agency for two years.
    . . . . .
    Bills in Maine, Maryland and Massachusetts would restrict noncompete agreements that involve low-wage employees; New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, is pushing for the same change in his state. Proposals in Massachusetts and Washington would also restrict the agreements for other types of workers, such as temporary employees and independent contractors.

    Such bills face an uphill struggle, however, often because of stiff opposition from business. “Non-compete agreements are essential to the growth and viability of businesses by protecting trade secrets and promoting business development,” the Maryland Chamber of Commerce said in written testimony opposing a bill Carr introduced that would have voided agreements signed by workers who earn less than $15 an hour. The bill passed the House in February but died in the Senate.
    . . . . . .

    Some good news:

    In California, North Dakota and Oklahoma, the law says the agreements are unenforceable; judges will just throw them out. In other states, statutes and case law create a set of tests that the agreements must pass. In Oregon, for instance, they can only be enforced if workers have two weeks to consider them before taking a job, or if the worker gets a “bona fide advancement” in return, such as a raise.

    States have tightened up enforcement criteria in recent years, propelled by news reports, Starr’s research and encouragement from the Obama White House. In addition to Illinois’ law banning noncompete agreements for low-wage workers, last year Utah passed a law that voided agreements that restricted workers for more than a year; Rhode Island invalidated them for physicians; and Connecticut limited how long and in what geographic area physicians can be bound.

    Yet Starr’s survey research suggests that tweaking the criteria may have a limited effect on how often the agreements are signed. In California, where noncompete agreements can’t be enforced, 19 percent of workers have signed one, he said. In Florida, where the agreements are easily enforced, the share is the same: 19 percent.

  18. Jacob

    The merging of corporate power with the state is called “fascism.” This was described by both Benito Mussolini and FDR’s vice-president Henry Wallace. But the term “fascism” isn’t mentioned in the article. Importantly, fascists are sworn enemies of communism and socialism, and this is how they can be identified.

  19. gepay

    NC is one of the few blogs where I read the comments.- this was a good article until the wtf comment at the end.
    Great Britain in an 1833 Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom abolished slavery throughout the British Empire (with the exceptions “of the Territories in the Possession of the East India Company” (how is that not surprising), Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, and Saint Helena; the exceptions were eliminated in 1843). “Who ya gonna get to do the dirty work when all the slaves are free?” Indentured servants from India – the biggest ethnic group in British Guiana (now Guyana) are from India Indians.
    The US is definitely getting more feudal.

  20. d

    while i dont disagree thats it not happening, it just seems extremely short sighted, as without a large growing middle class, corporations are dooming them selves to lower income (profits) in the long term. but then no one can really accuse corporations of having a long term view

    1. different clue

      But perhaps the rich people hiding behind the corporate veil are motivated by class sadism, not class greed. Perhaps they are ready to lose half what they have in order to destroy both halves of what we have.

  21. Benedict@Large

    I don’t see the problem. You’re getting somewhere around minimum wage, and so a lawyer wouldn’t take you even if you knew how to find one suitable, which you don’t.

    So you look at your boss and say, “Sue me.” What’s the gut to do? Hire a lawyer? Use one on staff? This is a civil case, so what damages is he claiming?

    Then how’s the judge going to look on this. Any judge I’ve known would be pissed livid to get stuck with a bullcrap case like this. Imagine when every judge is looking at his docket filled with this nonsense. How long before he starts slapping your boss with contempt?

    We’re sitting around complaining how bad our bosses are, bet we have another, must worse problem. Employees have turned to wimps over their boss’s every utterance. Here’s a tip. Probably a half and more of whatever is in you employment “contract” (it probably doesn’t even qualify legally as one) is either illegal or unenforceable. Pretend it isn’t there.

    And above all, STOP rolling over to these jerks. If your biggest problem is a non-compete on a minimum wage contract, your world has already fallen apart. If your bosses problem is that he thinks he needs them, his world is about to.

    1. Mike G

      It’s about bullying and intimidation.
      Like most bullies, the companies are cowards who would back down if challenged, because it would make little economic sense to sue minimum-wage ex-employees.
      They’re relying on the employees being too cowed to call their bluff, so they choose to stay even if unhappy.

  22. Edward

    Non-compete clauses sound like something that will create a hostile work force; that may not be so good for these companies.

    Articles like this make me think of “Space Merchants”, an amusing science fiction satire on capitalism by Pohl and Kornbluth.

  23. Swamp Yankee

    The East India Company did not establish a foothold in Virginia! That was the Virginia Company! This basic factual error mars an article that otherwise makes a very good point.

    1. Swamp Yankee

      Nor was Virginia a State at the time — a colony until the Revolution. These are critical distinctions.

      This is the kind of thing that drives history teachers crazy.

  24. Chauncey Gardiner

    Perhaps there are other options in responding to the types of abuse detailed in this post, in addition to the political action Thom Hartmann called for. One such action might be characterized as “Passive NonParticipation” with your brains, craftsmanship and know-how to the extent possible, yet still retain your job.

    In the waning years of the Soviet Union, the mantra was “They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work.” I suspect many American workers have already figured out the minimum amount of work necessary to retain their jobs and incomes, hence the recent decline in one of the “elite’s” most cherished metrics, “productivity” (besides wealth concentration, of course).

  25. Phil

    Labor is under attack, worldwide. Why? Because it’s a line item on corporate budget plans. Corporations are mandated to maximize profits, the lion’s share of which go back to those who control corporations or work with corporations to control labor costs. the latter include technology companies that are happily using software and robotics to “make life easier”. Think about it.

    I don’t see conspiracy in any of this; in fact, most corporate officers think they are just “doing what they are supposed to do” without giving any serious thought to the negative social and economic multipliers that flow from their decisions.

    The massive, looming replacement of millions of jobs, worldwide, is going to take a toll; this has already begun. How will the corporate class react? Like they always do (and HERE is where the “conspiracy” part begins to bloom)…they buy power (in America) by influencing law that is derived from their hand-picked cronies. In other parts of the world, despots do as they please; they don’t need to buy the law – they *are* the law.

    So, no matter the system of government, we are now in a place where power shifts to the wealthy are significant to a degree that completely reinforces a paragraph from the essay, above…
    “Scientists have proven that the likelihood the desires of the bottom 90 percent of Americans get enacted into law are now equal to statistical “random noise.” Functionally, most of us no longer have any real representation in state or federal legislative bodies: they now exist almost exclusively to serve the very wealthy.”

    The tipping point is nearly here, or has already passed. Remember, technology and other means of sophisticated population control requires *capital*.

    All that said, I see humanity’s way out as an ever-increasing feedback loop of information about this problem that evolves into a movement, or movements, that is somehow able to return human beings to active agents in their fate, instead of ending up by just-barely-fed, socially programmed drones. There is no guarantee that there is a way out, but if citizens, worldwide, don’t somehow find productive ways to change this course, we will be looking at a very different worldwide culture – a diminished humanity – in a few generations.

    For the future diminished, it may not seem such a bad fate, because they will not know any better, and will be kept that way. Right now, it’s a coin toss.

  26. Mathiasalexander

    The Report From Iron Mountain may be a hoax but all of its recommendations have been implemented.

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