Blog Archives

The Lessons of Rome: Our Neofeudal Oligarchy

The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000 is not an easy, breezy read; its length and detail are daunting.

The effort is well worth it, as the book helps us understand how the power structures of societies change over time in ways that may be largely invisible to those living through the changes.

The Inheritance of Rome focuses on the lasting influence of Rome’s centralized social and political structures even as centralized economic power and trade routes dissolved.

This legacy of centralized power and loyalty to a central authority manifested 324 years after the end of the Western Roman Empire circa 476 A.D. in Charlemagne, who united much of western Europe as the head of the Holy Roman Empire. (Recall that the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire endured another 1,000 years until 1453 A.D.)

But thereafter, the social and political strands tying far-flung villages and fiefdoms to a central authority frayed and were replaced by a decentralized feudalism in which peasants were largely stripped of the right to own land and became the chattel of independent nobles.

In this disintegrative phase, the central authority invested in the monarchy of kings and queens was weak to non-existent.

In the long sweep of history, it took several hundred years beyond 1000 A.D. for central authority to re-assert itself in the form of monarchy, and several hundred additional years for the rights of commoners to be established.

Indeed, it can be argued that it was not until the 1600s and 1700s–and only in the northern European strongholds of commoners’ rights, The Netherlands and England–that the rights of ownership and political influence enjoyed by commoners in the Roman Empire were matched.

It can even be argued that the rights of Roman citizenship granted to every resident of the late Empire were only matched in the 19th and 20th centuries.

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The Decline and Fall of the European Union

That a single currency, the euro, would fracture rather than unite Europe was understood long before the euro’s introduction as legal tender on January 1, 2002. The euro, the currency of 19 of the 28 member states of the European Union, is only one of the various institutions tying the member nations of the European union together, but it is the linchpin of the financial integration touted as one of the primary benefits of EU membership.

Skepticism of the benefits of EU membership is rising, as citizens of the member nations are questioning the surrender of national sovereignty with renewed intensity.

The technocrat elite that holds power in the EU is attempting to marginalize critics as populists, nationalists or fascists, overlooking the untidy reality that the actual source of tyranny is arguably the unelected bureaucrats of the EU who have taken on extraordinary powers to strip the citizenry of member states of civil liberties (i.e. the right to dissent) and of meaningful political enfranchisement.

As I have patiently explained since 2012, the underlying structure of the EU is neocolonialism, specifically, neocolonial-financialization. Stripped of artifice, the financial institutions of the EU core have colonized the EU periphery via the euro and the EU and imposed a modernized system of extractive serfdom on the citizenry of the core and periphery alike.

To understand the neocolonial-financialization model, we must revisit the classic model of colonialism. In the old model of Colonialism, the colonizing power conquered or co-opted the Power Elites of the region, and proceeded to exploit the new colony’s resources and labor to enrich the core or center, i.e. the Imperial nation and its ruling elites.

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“Yellow Vests” and the Downward Mobility of the Middle Class

The middle class, virtually by definition, is not prepared for downward mobility. A systemic, semi-permanent decline in the standard of living isn’t part of the implicit social contract that’s been internalized by the middle class virtually everywhere: living standards are only supposed to rise. Any decline is temporary.

Downward mobility is the key context in the gilets jaunes “yellow vest” movement in France. Taxes and prices rise inexorably while wages/pensions stagnate. The only possible outcome of this structural asymmetry is a decline in the standard of living.

This structural decline in the standard of living of the middle class is complex.One of the definitive identifying characteristics of the middle class is that is supposed to be largely immune to the insecurity and precariousness that characterize much of the working class.

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France in a Nutshell: “The Government Stopped Listening to the People 20 Years Ago”

A family member who has lived in France for decades summarized the source of the gilets jaunes protests in one sentence: “The government stopped listening to the people 20 years ago. It would be difficult to deny the generalization of this: many if not most governments stopped listening to their people decades ago, preferring instead to listen to financial and political elites and entrenched cultural elites who view commoners with disdain.

Legions of commentators are weighing in on the economic and cultural sources of France’s distemper. Many have characterized the protests as working class, broadly speaking, the multitudes who have seen an erosion in the purchasing power of their wages or pensions while France’s financial, political and cultural elites have feasted on whatever meager gains the French economy has registered in the past 20 years.

The protesters rightly perceive that they are politically invisible: the ruling class, regardless of its ideological flavor, doesn’t believe it needs the support of the politically invisible to rule as it sees fit. The ruling class has counted on the cultural elites to marginalize and suppress the politically invisible by dismissing any working-class dissent as racist, fascist, nationalistic and other words expressly intended to push dissent into the political wilderness.

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America Needs a New National Strategy

If you ask America’s well-paid punditry to define America’s National Strategy, you’ll most likely get the UNESCO version: America’s national strategy is to support a Liberal Global Order (LGO) of global cooperation on the environment, trade, etc. and the encouragement of democracy, a liberal order that benefits all by providing global security and avenues for cooperation.

This sounds good, but it overlooks the Endless Wars ™ and global meddling that characterize America’s realpolitik dependence on force, which it applies with a ruthlessness born of America’s peculiar marriage of exceptionalism and naivete.

The happy UNESCO story also overlooks the rapacious incoherence of America’s political system which is ultimately nothing but the Corporatocracy’s advocacy of self-interest. This system is based on the bizarre notion that private-sector corporations with revolving-doors to central state agencies lobbying for state protection of their monopolies will magically benefit the entire populace.

This absurd idea that the single-minded pursuit of maximizing private gain by any means available will magically benefit society is the essence of neofeudalism: 

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Droit du Seigneur and the Neofeudal Privileges of Class in America

The repugnant reality of class privilege in America is captured by the phrase date rape: the violence of forced, non-consensual sex is abhorrent rape when committed by commoner criminals, but implicitly excusable date rape when committed by a member of America’s privileged elite.

Compare the effectiveness of excuses offered by privileged elites (we were both drinking, I didn’t hear her say no, etc.) when offered in court by less privileged males on trial for rape. The privileged elite is acquitted or given a wrist-slap while the commoner gets 20 years in prison.

This implicit privilege to non-consensual sex was known as Droit du Seigneur (right of the lord) in feudal Europe. While scholars debate whether the right of lords to have their way with female subjects was institutionalized, it doesn’t take much imagination to see the lack of recourse unmarried female serfs had if summoned to the lord’s lair.

The “right” to non-consensual sex is simply one facet of class privilege in America. One need only examine the histories of Harvey Weinstein and Bill Clinton to see how Droit du Seigneur works in America: from the perverse perspective of the privileged, the female “owes” the “lord” sex as “payment” for his interest in her, or (even more offensively, if that’s possible) the female is “fortunate” to have attracted the violent sexual gratification of the “lord.”

While the standard presumption of sexual assault / date-rape is that it’s all about sex, the much more disturbing reality is that it’s a crime of violence.Force and violence are also privileges of the New Aristocracy, both the direct violence of sexual assault and indirect violence threatened or manifested by the innumerable thugs that surround the New Aristocracy.

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To Understand America’s Neofeudal Economy, Start with Extortion

Let’s spin the time machine back to the late Middle Ages, at the height of feudalism, and imagine we’re trying to get a boatload of goods to the nearest city to sell. As we drift down the river, we’re constantly being stopped and charged a fee for transiting one small fiefdom after another. When we finally reach the city, there’s an entry fee for bringing our goods to market.

Note that none of these fees were payments for improvements to transport or for services rendered; they were simply extortion. This was the economic structure of feudalism: petty fiefdoms levied extortionate fees that funded the lifestyles of nobility.

This is why I have long called America’s economy neofeudal: we pay ever higher fees for services that are degrading, not improving. This is the essence of extortion: we don’t get any improvement in goods and services for the extra money we’re forced to pay.

Consider higher education: costs are soaring while the value of the “product”–a college diploma–declines. What extra value are students receiving for the doubling of tuition and fees? The short answer is “none.” College diplomas are in over-supply, and studies have found that a majority of students learn remarkably little of value in college.

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Loving Our Debt-Serfdom: Our Neofeudal Status Quo

I have often used the words neoliberal, neocolonial and neofeudal to describe our socio-economic-political status quo. Here are my shorthand descriptions of each term:

1. Neoliberal: the commoditization / financialization of every asset, input (such as labor) and output of the economy; the privatization of the public commons, and the maximizing of private profits while costs and losses are socialized, i.e. transferred to the taxpayers.

2. Neocolonial: the exploitation of the domestic populace using the same debt-servitude model used to subjugate, control and extract profits from overseas populations.

3. Neofeudal: the indenturing of the workforce via debt and financial repression to a new Aristocracy; the disempowerment of the workforce into powerless debt-serfs.

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The New Nobility Uses Political Correctness to Fragment the Precariats

I have long held that our economy is, stripped of propaganda, nothing but an updated version of feudalism, i.e. neofeudal: a vast class of precarious laborers (i.e. precariats–precarious proletariats) who own little to no wealth-producing capital ruled by a New Nobility/Oligarchy that owns the vast majority of wealth-producing capital and control of the political system.

I explained this structure in America’s Nine Classes: The New Class Hierarchy (April 29, 2014),Neofeudalism 101: Strip-Mining the Upper Middle Class (April 8, 2015) and The Class War Has Already Started (November 14, 2015).

In the Marxist analysis, there are only three classes: those who must sell their labor to earn a livelihood, those who earn their livelihood from owning wealth-generating capital, and the dispossessed/ marginalized who are dependent on the state (bread and circuses) or who scrape out a living on the margins of the lawful economy.

In this view, there is no meaningful class difference between the well-paid liberal technocrat with the $1 million (mortgaged) house on the Left/Right Coast and the rural conservative “deplorable” wage earner. Both must sell their labor and neither earns a livelihood from wealth-generating capital.

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Welcome to Neocolonialism, Exploited Peasants!

In my latest interview with Max Keiser, Max asked a question of fundamental importance: (I paraphrase, as the interview has not yet been posted): now that the current iteration of capitalism has occupied every corner of the globe, where can it expand to for its “growth”?

My answer: neocolonialism, my term for the financialized quasi-colonial exploitation of the home domestic population. I described this dynamic in The E.U., Neofeudalism and the Neocolonial-Financialization Model(May 24, 2012).

We all know how old-fashioned colonialism worked: the imperial power takes political and economic control of previously independent lands.

In the traditional colonial model, there are two primary benefits:
1. The imperial power (the core) extracts valuable commodities and low-cost labor from its colony (the periphery)
2. The imperial power sells its own high-margin manufactured goods to the captured-market of its colony.

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When Did Our Elites Become Self-Serving Parasites?

When did our financial and political elites become self-serving parasites? Some will answer that elites have always been self-serving parasites; as tempting as it may be to offer a blanket denunciation of elites, this overlooks the eras in which elites rose to meet existential crises.

Following in Ancient Rome’s Footsteps: Moral Decay, Rising Wealth Inequality(September 30, 2015)

As historian Peter Turchin explained in his book War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires, the value of sacrifice was a core characteristic of the early Republic’s elite:

“Unlike the selfish elites of the later periods, the aristocracy of the early Republic did not spare its blood or treasure in the service of the common interest. When 50,000 Romans, a staggering one fifth of Rome’s total manpower, perished in the battle of Cannae, as mentioned previously, the senate lost almost one third of its membership. This suggests that the senatorial aristocracy was more likely to be killed in wars than the average citizen….

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Neofeudalism and Peasants with Pitchforks: Corporate Power Destroys Democracy

In the original version of feudalism, peasants armed with pitchforks knew where to go for redress or regime change: the feudal lord’s castle on the hill. Though you won’t find this in conventional narratives of the Middle Ages, peasant revolts were a common occurrence; serfs weren’t always delighted to toil for their noble masters.

In the present era of corporate dominance, where can serfs go to demand redress and financial freedom from the neofeudal system? Nowhere.The global corporations that own the land and the productive assets have no castle that can be stormed; they exist in an abstract financial world of stock shares, buybacks, bonds, lobbyists and political influence.

When the agribusiness corporation fouls the local water supply with animal waste, where do the local peasantry go to demand restoration of their water quality? The corporation? What if the headquarters are thousands of miles away?

What impact will 100 serfs gathered outside the modern-day castle have on water quality in a distant land? Zero, because the corporation has rendered it illegal (via lobbying the local political flunkies desperate for “jobs” and campaign contributions) to even take photos of their vast animal-waste output or their inadequate disposal.

Where do oppressed serfs go to advocate for transparency in America’s private Gulag prison system? If you go to the prison to protest, you’ll be arrested and will soon be looking at the world from inside the privately operated gulag.

Once again–where is the castle on the hill? It’s not there. The corporate operators of the private Gulag are far away, and security will disperse any troublesome serfs who travel hundreds of miles to air grievances.

Documenting abuses in the privately owned and operated Gulag is illegal.Corporate lobbying and campaign contributions have ensured that any attempt to document neofeudal exploitation by corporations is illegal.

And of course if documentation is impossible to obtain, then the exploitation doesn’t exist. The mainstream media’s default setting is to dismiss first-hand accounts as “he said, she said”: the imprisoned serf says this, and the private prison spokesperson says that, and without any proof that can stand up in court, the grievance vanishes into thin air.

Try telling the African peasant who is unhappy with the Chinese owners of the land he tills to take his grievances to the owners of the land–a corporation in distant China that is owned by the Chinese army.

The reality is there is no avenue left for advocacy, grievances or redress in a system dominated by global corporations. The castle on the hill doesn’t exist; it is diffused all over the planet, and well protected by state minions controlled by neofeudal corporate interests.

Do you really think it’s mere coincidence that small business growth has imploded in the era of corporate dominance? As I explained yesterday in Governments Change, the Corporatocracy Endures, central banks dropping interest rates to near-zero for financiers and corporations sealed corporate dominance of finance and governance. There are few opportunities for small businesses when the financial and political structures serve neofeudal corporate interests.

Corporate power destroys democracy. That is the heart of neofeudalism.

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