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Economic competition often results in businesses trying to buy labour at the lowest possible cost (for example, through offshoring or by employing foreign workers ) or to obviate it entirely (through mechanisation and automation).

Throughout human prehistory and history, wherever social class systems have developed, the social status of manual labourers has, more often than not, been low, as most physical tasks were done by peasants , serfs , slaves , indentured servants , wage slaves , or domestic servants . For example, legal scholar L. Ali Khan analyses how the Greeks , Hindus , English , and Americans all created sophisticated social structures to outsource manual labour to distinct classes, castes , ethnicities , or races . [1]

The phrase "hard labour" has even become a legal euphemism for penal labour , which is a custodial sentence during which the convict is not only confined but also put to manual work. Such work may be productive, as on a prison farm or in a prison kitchen, laundry, or library; intrinsically senseless, with the only purpose being the effect of the punishment on the convict; or somewhere in between (such as chain gang work, treadwheel work, or the proverbial "breaking rocks"—the latter two of which are almost certain to be economically senseless today, although they sometimes served economic purpose in the preindustrial past).

Social systems of every ideological persuasion, from Marxism to syndicalism to the American Dream , have attempted to achieve a successfully functioning classless society in which honest, productive manual labourers can have every bit of social status and power that honest, productive managers can have. Humans have not yet succeeded in instantiating any such utopia , but some social systems have been designed that go far enough toward the goal that hope yet remains for further improvement.

At its highest extreme, the rationalised distortion by economic elites produces cultures of slavery and complete racial subordination, such as slavery in ancient Greece and Rome ; slavery in the United States (which was defeated in 1865); or slavery under Nazism (which was defeated in 1945). Concepts such as the Three-fifths compromise and the Untermensch defined slaves as less than human.

In the middle of the spectrum, such distortion may produce systems of fairly rigid class stratification, usually rationalised with fairly strong cultural norms of biologically inherited social inequality, such as feudalism ; traditional forms of aristocracy and monarchy; colonialism ; and caste systems (e.g., Apartheid , separate but equal / Jim Crow , Indian caste ). One interesting historical trend that is true of all of the systems above is that they began crumbling in the 20th century and have continued crumbling since. Today's forms of them are mostly greatly weakened compared to past generations' versions.


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