by Neill Herring
The last four or five decades have seen extraordinary economic and population growth in the southern states of the United States, continuing historic developments that started during the Second World War and were later stimulated by the end of legal racial segregation. One national effect of those changes has been a continual shift in the center of economic growth for the whole country to the southern and western states, away from the Northeast and the Midwest “rust belt.”
The character of the exploitation of labor in the South has changed as investment patterns have displaced large populations from manufacturing and extractive employment. The continuing breakdown of the caste-like remnants of post-Reconstruction labor “markets” has removed hundreds of thousands of workers from home- and institution-based domestic service, as well as various manual occupations, and forced them into other employment. This new “New South” has been widely celebrated, even as regional wage rates still trail other sections of the country (and while the South shares the national upward redistribution of wealth). What is different now from the pattern in the 1950s is that realizing a return on investment by the sweating-it-out of workers is nothing like the obvious low-cost option it was then.
Marx says there are two sources of economic wealth: that produced by human labor; and the wealth that can be taken by that labor from the earth itself, from land, air, and water. As the rate of the exploitation of the former has continued to increase, exploitation of the latter has also risen, particularly in the South. Continue reading