Prisons and Primitive Accumulation

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  • Song Name: Prisons and Primitve Accumulation
  • Artist: Nathan Goodman
  • Year: 2016

Intro/Outro by Jeff Riggenbach
Written by Nathan Goodman
Read by John Moore
Edited by Tony Dreher

Online article:


Freed blacks may have wanted to pursue any manner of economic activity to support themselves, independent of the bosses who used to call themselves slave owners. But the state, through its criminal justice system, ensured that couldn’t happen.

One doesn’t need to be a Marxist to recognize that incarceration has played a major role in imposing work discipline throughout history. For example, free market economist Bruce Benson, in his anarcho-capitalist classic The Enterprise of Law, describes how one of the first uses of English prisons was imposing work discipline:

“Houses of correction” were first established under Elizabeth to punish and reform able-bodied poor who refused to work. A “widespread concern for the habits and behavior of the poor” is often cited as the reason for the poor laws regarding vagrancy and the establishment of facilities to “reform” the idle poor by confining them and forcing them to work at hard labor. But Chambliss reported that “there is little question but that these statutes were designed for one express purpose: to force laborers (whether personally free or unfree) to accept employment at a low wage in order to insure the landowner an adequate supply of labor at a price he could afford to pay.” Such laws clearly reflected the transfer function of government.

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