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New Feudalism

In January, 2014, Oxfam released a report about economic inequality in the world, based on a report issued in November 2013: Outlook on the Global Agenda 2014, from the World Economic Forum.

Half of the world's wealth is now owned by just 1% of the population. 70% of the world has seen economic inequality increase in the last 30 years. In the United States, over the past 4 years the top 1% got 95% of any economic growth while the bottom 90% got poorer. Oxfam conducted surveys in several major countries and found a majority in each believing laws are skewed in favor of the rich.

Where is this trend of inequality going to lead if unchecked?

I can only wonder if this new world order is similar to the feudalism of a millennium ago. After William the Conqueror became King of England in 1066, he directed the compilation of the English lands, later known as the Domesday Book (completed in 1086), to document the royal holdings and who had control over the rest of England, as well as an accounting of the resources like the amount of land and the numbers of livestock within each manor. After William conquered England, he confiscated the lands of the resisting English and gave that land to his followers. He needed people loyal to himself to manage the country, to keep the people docile and to provide tax income, while he managed his empire (England and Normandy).

Essentially, the military conquest was followed by a leadership replacement, where the peasants of England were just part of the local resources involved along with the livestock, farmland, and fisheries. The yields in each manor were split with approximately 1/3 going to the earl and 2/3 going to the king. The peasants worked to the benefit of their masters.

The feudal society of a millennium ago consisted of the lords who owned the land and the peasants who worked the land.

At the time of William the Conqueror and the Domesday Book (1086) the population of England is estimated at around 2 million, whereas with the success of modern agriculture now the major Western industrialized countries have substantially more people, where England has more than 50 million people and the United States have over 300 million people.

The new feudal society of our generation consists of the very rich elite, who continue to amass greater wealth (through mergers to concentrate corporate power and to drive out competitors, and through austerity measures to drive down worker wages and to pass public assets into private ownership), while the bottom of the economic ladder does all the work.

With the large government structures, the ruling elite provide their representatives to manage the various levels of government, through the campaign contributions to get their candidates into office and to get any unwanted officials removed from office. The American people are definitely aware of the incompetent candidates being offered but in our representative democracy with the election process managed by the two parties in power, any improvement soon appears quite unlikely. The top of important government regulatory bureaucracies are furnished with their officers through the revolving door practice, where a large company being regulated will provide new officers from their staff while officers leaving the agency can move (or return) to a well paid position in the company being regulated. With the elected representatives following the wishes of their campaign donors, change in the conduct among the regulators appears quite unlikely.

With the large corporate structures, the elite need subservient managers to deal with the workers (the lower levels). To satisfy that need, academic institutions have been pumping large numbers of MBA graduates every year. In earlier years, like in my youth, companies typically hired from within so someone with experience would be promoted up the corporate ranks because they knew the people, knew the product/service, and knew the customers. The MBA grads are not there to provide an effective service based on personal awareness of the business; they are simply there to keep the lower levels in line with the top corporate goals. They are a commodity item (to fit in anywhere and if ineffective in one position they can be moved to another position) and they do not really need to know the business or the people or the customers because the corporate goals are critical not the people (or product or service or customer), so empathy is not required.

This new feudal framework is seen internationally as well, especially in the third world. With globalism and international corporations, military conquest is no longer needed. Opposing political systems in small countries can be destabilized through foreign funded insurgencies and/or demonstrators, so popular leaders and/or democracies that might be concerned with the interests of the population are easily overthrown and new leaders installed, who are willing to follow the directives of their foreign managers. With the recent international financial crisis, with many governments in disarray, proposed recovery plans direct austerity measures to be implemented by a new subservient (to the predatory corporations) government, to the detriment of the general population. Unlike the Earls who lived among the peasants and had allegiance to their king, new corporate managers do not have to live with the 'peasants' nor do they have any real accountability to the country's government, but instead report to the international corporate management. The local resources are manipulated while the human population works to the benefit of their manager, rather than to the benefit of their community.

That feudal system of an earlier millenium was eventually overturned. For example, the Magna Carta in 1215 was forced on King John by the feudal barons, to establish a rule of law exists rather than just the arbitrary will of the king. This document was just one of the many steps in the evolution of constitutional development.

The American colonies rejected being subject to the whims of the King of England over their affairs and instigated a revolution, becoming the United States of America with a new Constitution including a Bill of Rights (with those involved quite familiar with English history). However over the two centuries since then, this political system has deteriorated to the point few of those rights in those first 10 amendments are relevant today. The debates at the time of the constitutional creation reveal a number of the revolutionaries were quite aware the constitution was creating a central government that could become too powerful, as is clearly seen today.

Unfortunately, new multinational corporations are the largest social structure, spanning country borders to avoid accountability by local governments. This is new, unlikely in earlier times of significant political events like 1215 or 1776, when a template for a democratic political system was taking shape. Human society does not have a mechanism to hold these large international entities accountable for their actions. Until such accountability is in place, these corporations are free to engage in whatever predatory practices are in accord with the corporate financial goals, with the likely result of most affected populations seeing a decline in quality of life. Only local managers are likely to be enriched by their submission to their foreign directors, so only a small number of people in each case will see their lives improve, as most wealth being created rolls up to the top.

After the Magna Carta signing, there was no one with true absolute power. Countries were still small, with economic and military competition among them. Unlike those times where there was some loyalty to one's country and countrymen, the world's elite are beyond any local or regional checks and balances, and having absolute power they now also feel they are truly above everyone else, beyond the normal empathy most human beings would feel for one's fellow man. In fact it is even worse, where economic policy is set to worsen living conditions because when on the verge of survival one is less likely to seek political reform. In 1997, Alan Greenspan testified the Fed’s policies were seeking “greater worker insecurity.”

Instead of the medieval feudal society being subject to the whims of the king and the benevolence of his local lord of the manor, the new feudal society is subject to the whims of the international elite, and the benevolence of their local managers and the subservient local government.

created - March 11 2014
last change - 03/11/2014
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