Asatar Bair Dissertation

I saw a celebrity, recently, who told the interviewer, “I can honestly say that I have almost no ego left.” The interviewer just sort of nodded and added something like, “You have been on this path for a very long time.”

I found myself just laughing. I like the person who was being interviewed and have followed this individual’s personal development for at least the last thirty years. Like all of us, every time he seems to think he has “finally” reached a level of understanding, life happens and he finds himself, once again, putting the pieces of his life together in an a different way, with perhaps a more complete understanding. I was quite surprised to hear this wise person state that he was now living without ego. So surprised, in fact, that I backed it up and listened again to make sure I had not misinterpreted.

Even after hearing it for the second time, I was still waiting for the punch line, perhaps a sly smile and a wink to show the host that he was just being silly. None came though, and I decided that he was being serious.

As long as we are in form and do things for ourselves in the world we need our ego. This is not to say that we need to defend our ego or that we should allow this aspect of our human selves to be in charge. The ego is a tool that we need in order to move and function on the physical plane.

According to Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj ego starts when thought starts. To be fully free of ego would mean one had to be fully divested of thought. It seems to me that to live in form and to move through one’s days, requires us to exercise some thought. Granted much of what we say and do is autonomic and requires very little thought, but what of sudden change? Don’t we need and employ ego to help us formulate an informed response?

I am not trying to be critical of the aforementioned speaker, whom I greatly admire, I am merely questioning out loud. Nisargadatta teaches that the egoless state is the I Am state. Anything added to the awareness of I Am requires ego. “I Am” is the truth. I Am “this” or “that” requires ego. To say I Am free of ego, would by this definition, be a statement contrived by the ego.

I Am has no opposite. There is no I Am “Not” in Reality. Whatever word or idea is added to I Am creates separation. I Am “This” means I am not “That.” Adding an object to the I Am creates illusion from Reality.

Only the ego could suggest that it is possible to live without it.

Is it feasible to live without being a slave to the ego? I certainly think that it is not only possible, but that it is necessary to live in perpetual peace. I have to believe that living free from the mastery of the ego is what this profound individual meant in his remarks.

Our mind is very powerful and it does not wish to give up control without having tried every trick possible. Consider these words from Thomas Merton found in his autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain, “I think that if there is one truth that people need to learn, in the world, especially today, it is this: the intellect is only theoretically independent of desire and appetite in ordinary, actual practice. It is constantly being blinded and perverted by the ends and aims of passion, and the evidence it presents to us with such a show of impartiality and objectivity is fraught with interest and propaganda. We have become marvelous at self-delusion; all the more so, because we have gone to such trouble to convince ourselves of our own absolute infallibility.”

As long as we are in form and are required to act on life, as it comes, we will need thoughts. In the shaping and interpretation of these thoughts and our other life experiences, ego finds its existence. The fully functioning, conscious human recognizes this powerful tool as an asset but never falls prey to its desired domination. Who and what we are is the awareness which exists before the thought, before the ego. From this place of wisdom we are able to utilize all of our gifts and talents to live a joyous life of service to the Universe. Recognizing and utilizing a healthy ego is just one of the many assets we carry in a fully developed toolkit.

An economic analysis of prison labor in the United States

Asatar P Bair, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The practice of using the labor of inmates in state and Federal prisons to produce commodities has expanded rapidly in recent years, paralleling the growth of the number of people incarcerated. Last year, prisoners in state and Federal institutions in the U.S. produced over $2 billion worth of commodities, both goods and services. In addition, prisoners performed various acts of labor such as food preparation, maintenance, laundry, and cleaning—forms of labor which, though necessary for the operation of every prison—do not produce commodities with market prices. A conservative estimate places the value of these goods and services at $9 billion. ^ This dissertation analyzes the organization of prison labor and the increasingly important prison industries producing saleable commodities; in particular, we focus on the division between the products of prison labor consumed by the inmates and that appropriated from them by the prison authorities for other uses. ^ This research yields the striking conclusion that the basic organization of prison labor in the U.S. today most closely resembles a form of slavery. Inmates are compelled by economic, cultural, and political forces to enter into this prison slavery, where the products of their labor are taken by others both inside and outside the prison. ^ The effects of prison slavery on both the inmates who are enslaved as well as on American society as a whole are also explored. We find that as the prison has been transformed over the last 150 years by social movements, legal changes, and economic forces, so too has prison slavery. We also find that these social changes have allowed slavery to continue and even to expand in American society, despite the Civil War and the abolition of slavery outside prisons. The enslavement of inmates threatens the legitimacy of the criminal justice system, since slavery is widely seen as an ethically unacceptable form of labor. This loss of legitimacy may lead to increased criminal behavior. ^

Subject Area

Labor economics|Economic theory|Criminology

Recommended Citation

Bair, Asatar P, "An economic analysis of prison labor in the United States" (2004). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3152671.


Since July 19, 2006


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