Population Control

So many modern day parallels sprang to mind while I was reading against-the-grainch. 5. Our modern methods of coercion have a long and storied history indeed.

High turn-over in Amazon warehouse workforces

Mr. Bezos did not want an entrenched work force, calling it “a march to mediocrity,” Mr. Niekerk recalled, and saw low-skilled jobs as relatively short-term.


Amazon’s founder didn’t want hourly workers to stick around for long, viewing “a large, disgruntled” work force as a threat, Mr. Niekerk recalled.

The Amazon that Customers Don't See

(Funnily enough, written at a company with its own union-busting tactics!)

Amazon’s Greatest Weapon Against Unions: Worker Turnover - NLRB requires >30% of workers to be on board with a union before scheduling an election, and high turn-over means securing that proportion is an every moving target. Organising also takes on the order of years, and building solidarity is hard when nobody plans to stick around for long, and everybody is a stranger, and you don't know who you can trust.


Back in 19th century BCE Uruk, slaves and war captives were farmed out to various sectors (e.g. agriculture, textiles, military, etc.), and notably,

Care was taken to farm out small labor crews and to relocate them frequently to minimize the danger of revolt or escape.

against-the-grainch. 161


Insofar as the captives are seized from scattered locations and backgrounds and are separated from their families, as was usually the case, they are socially demobilized or atomized and therefore easier to control and absorb. If the war captives came from societies that were perceived in most respects as alien to the captors, they were not seen as entitled to the same social consideration. Having, unlike local subjects, few if any local social ties, they were scarcely able to muster any collective opposition.

against-the-grainch. 168

Similar to the plight of foreign workers in Singapore, Dubai, and elsewhere: overworked, underpaid, socially isolated, abused, maligned, and largely invisible to the local subjects.

Foreign labourers for taking on the drudgery

First, mining, quarrying, and felling timber were absolutely central to the military and monumental needs of the state elites. These needs in the smaller Mesopotamian city-states were more modest but no less vital. Second, the luxury of having a disposable and replaceable proletariat is that it spared one's own subjects from the most degrading drudgery and thus forestalled the insurrectionary pressures that such labor well might provoke, while satisfying important military and monumental ambitions. [...] Nevertheless, much of the materiality of state making depends centrally on such work, and it matters whether those doing it are slaves or subjects.

against-the-grainch. 170

Politically neutered expats

The principle of socially detached servants- Janissaries, eunuchs, court Jews-has long been seen as a technique for rulers to surround themselves with skilled but politically neutralized staff. At a certain point, however, if the slave population is large, is concentrated, and has ethnic ties, this desired atomization no longer holds.

against-the-grainch. 168

A perk of "welcoming foreign talent": the foreigners are in the country purely on the terms of the host state. Political ties to locals are likely rare (with less incentive to go against the wishes of the rulers due to any local conflicting interests). These people bring skills the state "did not have to develop on its own", and can be disposed of easily with little local opposition in the event they start causing trouble for the state.


The continuous absorption of slaves at the bottom of the social order can also be seen to play a major role in the process of social stratification- a hallmark of the early state.

against-the-grainch. 169

Destruction of alternatives

The conquerors were on the lookout for generic manpower and, simultaneously, for the craftsmen and entertainers who would enhance the luster of the conquerors' courts. The towns and villages of the defeated peoples were generally destroyed so that there was nothing to go back to.

against-the-grainch. 171

~ destroying native lands through mining and raw material extraction, and in doing so obliterating any possibility of subsistence living, thereby forcing peoples into the "global workforce".


against-the-grain Scott, James C. 2017. Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States. ↩︎ 1 2 3 4 5 6 7