Does our economy serve our society, or does our society serve our economy, and by extension, those few who extract most of the economic benefits? It’s a question worth asking, as beneath the political churn around the globe, the issues raised by this question are driving the frustration and anger that’s manifesting in social and political disorder.
A recent essay examines these issues in light of Brexit, which the author sees as a manifestation of dramatic but poorly understood changes in Britain’s economy over the past 60 years:
How Britain was sold: Why we need to rethink the case for a national capitalism in the age of uncertainty.
A documentary on the decline of small farms and the rural economy in France highlights what we’ve lost in the decades-long rush to globalize and financialize everything on the planet— what we call Neoliberalism, the ideology of turning everything into a global market controlled by The Tyranny of Price and cheap credit issued to corporations and banks by central banks.
After Winter, Spring (2012) was made by an American who moved to a small village in the Dordogne region of France to recover something of her childhood on a small Pennsylvania farm.
The farmers–self-described as paysans, peasants in English, (a translation I don’t consider entirely accurate, for reasons too complex to go into here)– describe the financial difficulties of earning enough to survive without outside jobs.
One young farmer who is taking over the family dairy from his aging parents encapsulates the economic reality of small farms: in the 1960s, they had 3 or 4 cows, now they have 100, but their income is the same.
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….
Each individual’s liberty to do whatever you want, be whatever you want, go wherever you want, etc. (within the legal boundaries set by the state) is the core of the American Dream. The individual’s civil liberties and right to the unlimited pursuit of happiness is sacrosanct.
(Except of course when the state invokes civil seizure and steals your money, vehicle, etc. on vague suspicions that you may have violated one of the state’s manyblanket criminalization codes, but that’s another story.)
But there’s a problem: paradoxically, the selfie society created by the self-absorbed pursuit of wealth and happiness is incompatible with a functioning democracy. Why this is so takes some careful analysis of what it takes for groups of any size to function democratically.
Those who own the resources and influence the political control of those resources are the New Nobility in a pernicious Neofeudalism enforced by the very government that claims to serve the debt-serfs and tax donkeys.
Let’s tease apart several strands of Neofeudalism, my preferred term (along with Neocolonialism) for the Status Quo.
The E.U., Neofeudalism and the Neocolonial-Financialization Model (May 24, 2012)
It is increasingly clear that a new form of feudalism has subverted democracy, and that the New Feudalism is powered by concentrations of private wealth and centralized state control: what I call the New Nobility.
Neofeudalism depends on the cultural supremacy of Neoliberalism, the belief that the social order is defined and created by markets.
I’ve been discussing the essence of Neofeudalism this week: those with access to the low-interest unlimited credit spigot of the Federal Reserve become more equal than others–the perfect Orwellian description of a Neofeudal arrangement in which financial leverage buys not just rentier assets but political power and control.
Neofeudalism depends on the cultural supremacy of Neoliberalism, the belief that the social order is defined and created by markets: if markets are free, participants, society and the political order are also free.