Star Ford

Essays on lots of things since 1989.

The custodial economy

We are in a gradual shift in the economy when more people’s economic lives are enveloped in custodial institutions such as day care, schools, prisons, and disability and elder services. This “custodial economy” is made up of part of the government and service sectors, and is not normally considered a sector in itself. However it is distinct because it involves two expanding groups of people, who are neither buyers or sellers in a market. Instead they consist of beneficiaries – the students, prisoners and other people whose lives are being occupied by and supported by the systems, and the custodians who are deriving income from running it – the teachers and wardens and so on.

This paper is meant just to shine light on this phenomenon and look at the history, economic forces, and some commonly believed myths.

The main points defining the custodial economy are:

  • The beneficiaries in general do not have jobs with earnings sufficient to support themselves. Without economic power, their world is partly or mostly run by other people.
  • The custodians are not being paid directly by the beneficiaries as they would be in a market system. Instead the beneficiaries are a third party to the transaction, with less economic power. It’s similar to the way users of social media act (often unwittingly) as a third party in the sale of data about them to advertisers. Likewise, students and prisoners neither buy or sell the services being performed on them, but they must be there to make possible the salaries earned by the people working for those systems.
  • There are fuzzy edges to these ideas – there is not an exact way to categorize every person or every job.

Does the custodial economy encompass all poverty programs?

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Do not resuscitate

(This is what came to me the night after my mother in law died.)


note2At the base of jagged cliffs in the river, the weapon and a used body remain but the pain is gone. Some things remain and some are free. Pines and soft grasses accept the coming and going of life. The Gallinas accepts the washing downpour. Everything proceeds in its cycle as if the suffering had never been.

In memory of Patricia Knoebel and all the stone-shaping waters that connected her to Earth.


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