Welcome to the New Corporate Feudalism

Feudalism is back, with a vengeance.

Right now, the Wisconsin legislature is considering a bill that would make Wisconsin the nation’s 25th right-to-work-for-less state. All signs point to this bill becoming law. The state senate passed it by a margin of 17 to 15 last week, and Republican Governor Scott Walker, who supports right-to-work-for-less laws, said he will sign it if it reaches his desk.

This is a disaster in the making for Wisconsin. Workers in right to work-for-less-states make less money, get skimpier health benefits, and are more likely to die on the job than their workers in non-right-to-work-for-less states.

The line from Wisconsin Republicans, of course, is that the proposed right-work-for-less law will improve their state’s economy and help build the middle-class. But in reality, the exact opposite will happen. That’s because right-to-work-for-less laws bring capitalism a lot closer to its natural, unregulated state, and capitalism, in its natural, unregulated state tends toward massive levels of inequality that we usually associate with feudalism.

It looks a lot like this:

At the top, there is a very small class of superrich oligarchs and financiers. They’re the monarchs of capitalist society.

Below them, there is a slightly larger, but still very, very small, class of professionals and mercantilists - doctor, lawyers, shop-owners - who help keep things running for the superrich and supply the working poor with their needs. They’re nobles or knights of capitalist society.

And at the very bottom there is the great mass of people who make up the working poor. They have no wealth - in fact they're typically in debt most of their lives - and can barely survive on what little money they make. They’re the peasants of capitalist society.

So, for average working people, there is no such thing as a middle class in "natural” capitalism. Wealth accumulates at the very top among the elites, not among everyday working people. Inequality is the default option, just as it was in Medieval Europe under feudalism. The only ways a true middle class can emerge in a capitalist society are by massive social upheaval - a middle class emerged after the Black Plague in Europe in the 14th century - or by government intervention.

Historically, the government is the only thing that can put a check on the growth of feudalism, and it’s what we used here in the United States from the founding of the republic until the Reagan Revolution to fight the elite and build a middle-class from the ground up. Tariffs, workers’ rights legislation, the Glass-Steagall Act, higher taxes on the rich, you name it - our government used all of these things to restrain the natural tendency of capitalism towards inequality and to create a middle-class.

But ever since Reagan came to town and brainwashed everyone into believing that “government is the problem, not the solution,” we’ve gutted regulations, busted unions and, as a result, returned capitalism to something resembling its natural, brutish state.

Inequality is now at a record high, and the richest 3 percent of the population now controls more than half of all wealth. Middle class incomes, meanwhile, are stagnant.

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the child poverty rate here in the U.S. is now among the worst in the developed world.

Things have arguably gotten even worse since the recession, as the top one percent has absorbed almost all of the gains of our so-called “recovery.”

The kings and noblemen may be long gone, but here in America, the business and financial elite reign supreme, and corporate feudalism is the name of the game.

Thanks to Ronald Reagan and his modern-day followers like Scott Walker, America is no longer a true democracy, it’s an oligarchy, and every day it looks more and more like something out of the 14th - not the 21st - century. The time is long past due for us to roll back the Reagan Revolution once and for all.


DHBranski's picture
DHBranski 9 years 16 weeks ago

Huh? Wisconsin embraced feudalism back in the 1990s, with the mandatory workfare agenda -- min. wage or less/no workers' rights or protections. I read that some 80% of middle classers agree with this agenda, so why restrict it to only our very poor? Right now, the rich are doing to the middle class what the middle class already did to the poor. Who didn't anticipate this?

stecoop01's picture
stecoop01 9 years 16 weeks ago

Ahh, yes, America is the land of opportunity...but only if you're rich, white, christian, and male.

PaulHosse's picture
PaulHosse 9 years 16 weeks ago

Feudalism? Yes, if by that you mean fascist. This is the fascist oligarcy which now controls not just the Amercian government and the American society, but has been reaching out with its tentacles throughout the world. Fascist capitalism, corporatism, or modern feudalism if you prefer, must consume to survive. That means constant turnover; constant consumption; built in obsolence; and forcing open ever new market places, and most of all...debt. Individual debt is nice, but it's national debt that it needs the most. That's what is at the heart of the US/West vs Russia hostilities. It's about the World Bank and the IMF. Meanwhile, they've created the perpetual war to feed the beast and an increasingly tighter security apparatus to weed out the thinkers; the troublemakers; the resisters. White, rich, "Christian", and male? No. This goes way beyond that.

Hephaestus's picture
Hephaestus 9 years 16 weeks ago

PaulHosse... you've captured a lot there and your right in your thrust of thought!!!

The wild card is China and Asia in general!

Do our monsters have influence over the largest part of world population?

If so we're all doomed to subjugation

A miserable, mindless, brutal existence, sickness, early death without any form of human dignity

Whilst the 1% hope they will survive

liz banker 9 years 16 weeks ago

....and they're better looking, so therefore, more deserving to be on top and in control....they just can't come out in say it in pubic, but can and do... at their private jet-setting parties in the Cayman Island, St. Croix, and other tax havens.

2950-10K's picture
2950-10K 9 years 16 weeks ago

"Capitalist Society"...... In my opinion it's a society where unchecked obsessive and massive accumulation of wealth by a relative few, creates an exaggerated sense of their own importance and abilities, which in turn leads to a false belief that the vast majority is little more than a subordinate commodity to be exploited.

This money equals power arrogance is why labor almost always requires unions. It's also why Democratic Socialism is the only pragmatic solution to economic and social injustice. How many more times do we need to repeat the Grapes of Wrath?

Mark J. Saulys's picture
Mark J. Saulys 9 years 16 weeks ago

Socialism is democracy carried to its completion. Socialism means the workers or common people are in charge and have control. To redistribute wealth you first have to redistribute power.

"Bourgeouis democracy" is oxymoronic because a democracy that ignores or glosses over the inequities of power and privilege between rich and poor isn't democratic.

Mark J. Saulys's picture
Mark J. Saulys 9 years 16 weeks ago

stecoop1, class privilege is stronger than racial, gender and other privilege. One can more easily "diversify" their ruling clique than give up privilege altogether. One unfortunate thing about '60s movements for justice in the U.S. is that they never developed a sense of class consciousness and class struggle. The U.S. was a middle class society in the '60s and had a very large blue collar middle class. Labor was very strong - and corrupt, it had become, in many instances, part of the problem.

Relatively, there wasn't much poverty in the U.S. in the '60s and what of it there was largely race based, it was largely the result of racial discrimination. Thus the justice movements of the '60s were more about racial than class justice.

The values co opted from the '60s movements by mainstream society, therefore, embraced "diversity" but not much outrage at economic inequality or challenge to capitalism. Thus, we are now told, and many believe, that everything is okay now because we have diversity. We have Condoleeza Rice, Clarence Thomas and Barrack Obama so nothing's wrong with society anymore.

Mark J. Saulys's picture
Mark J. Saulys 9 years 16 weeks ago

Damned typos!

Thom, when Reagan said "government is the problem" what he really meant was that "democracy [or, government that is accountable to the people and, therefore, serves the people, providing functions and programs that help people] is the problem". Business cannot function and capitalist economy cannot exist - nor can there even be any private property rights - without government to back them up and enforce them. Thus the will of business and large property owners has the force of government behind it and without regulation, and thus accountability, by democratic government business and large property owners effectively become autocratic government and control society.

Feudalism was broken down beginning in the 13th and 14th centuries with the rise of cities and the middle cass - which was the merchant class of capitalist city dwellers or "burghers" in German, "bourgeouisie" in French. This merchant middle class became the ruling class when it overthrew the feudal aristocracy, the ruling class of feudalism, in the Enlightenment revolutions. A fundamental feature of those revolutions is the adopting of liberal democracy by the revolutionary societies..

An essential feature of capitalism that distinguishes it from and improves upon feudalism is liberal democracy. It is what made capitalism possible. Without it we live in feudalism, the ultimate oligarchy. For capitalism to exist rich and poor must be equal before the law. When government becomes the handmaiden and personal property of a few individuals the society is not objectively different from a feudal one.

Something that always seems to happen is that a revolutionary movement always denounces autocracy, repression and tyranny - while it's the revolutionary movement. When it succeeds, overthrows the tyranny and becomes the ruling party or ruling class it then thinks autoracy and repression are very good ideas and begins to resemble the tyranny it overthrew. So it seems with the capitalist bourgeousie.

RFord's picture
RFord 9 years 16 weeks ago

Everyone should have the right to work. Why should anyone br denied the right to work? Well, everyone does have the right to work. Right to work laws are about unions and they're bad for union workers and they're bad for non-union workers too. When union wages are stagnated by right to work laws, so are non-union wages because non-union employers pay less than their union counterparts in wages and benefits but just enough to keep them all from joining the union. So, when the cost of living goes up as wages remain stagnate, then the standard of living goes down, for both the union and the non-union worker. The only ones who benefit from right to work laws are the employers whose profits and standard of living goes up. I'm a retired union plumber and back in 1975 I was talking to a non-union plumber and he said "I'm glad ya'll (the union plumbers) make the money you do because if ya'll weren't making the money you make, we wouldn't be making the money we make".

Speaking of regulation reminds me that I am a plumber because I've implemented a lot of regulation in my time. I've put many regulators on gas, water,air, and madical gas lines. You see regulation keeps bad things from happening. Just like regulating the pressure on the water line comming into your home keeps your pipes from blowing apart and flooding your home (a bad thing), regulation in the lending and investment banking industry can prevent massive foreclosures and a stock market crash (bad things). That's what governmental regulation is about, keeping bad things from happening and without governmental regulation bad things will happen. Most regulations were written because bad things had already happened and if you remove the regulations as we've seen with the banking industry bad things will happen again.

PFNELKAK 9 years 16 weeks ago

to bad there isn't a way to regulate the amount of money the criminals take.

Mark J. Saulys's picture
Mark J. Saulys 9 years 16 weeks ago

Big business also historically opposes welfare benefits because they want the subsidies instead but also because welfare benefits compete with wages and force employers to pay higher, more living wages.

"Right to Work" is the right to work your ass off for the privilege of living in poverty. They say "there are more jobs" in Right to Work states. Seems they want ours to be a very busy starvation - frank enslavement.

Cuts to welfare and Right to Work are a two pronged offensive by the owners of business in the class war to enslave those who work for them.

Mark J. Saulys's picture
Mark J. Saulys 9 years 16 weeks ago


LysanderSpooner's picture
LysanderSpooner 9 years 16 weeks ago

Reagan grew the goverment by 60%. He increased spending, taxes, regulation, and debt. He was the most protectionist President since Hoover.

The system that Hartmann is describing is NOT free market capitalism. There is nothing wrong per se, with income inequality. However, if you goal is income equality, then free market capitalism is the economic system you should support. I don't see how private property, contracts and the ability of people to start their OWN businesses can be likened to feudalism.

Elioflight's picture
Elioflight 9 years 16 weeks ago

The corporate dumb-dumbs are at it again. When will they learn that their wealth comes from US? We do the work. We purchase the work. We pay the taxes. We build the infrastructure. They make the profit. It's a CIRCLE. And read a little history, please, corporate dumb-dumbs.

Feudalism depended on squeezing/depending on the peasants for food and clothing and home, building their great castles with peasant labor; depended on the peasants to fight in wars of conquest, in which the ruler gained all; married off their women (chattle) to unite kingdoms and wealth; used religion to keep the peasants in line. My god, that all sounds so familiar.

I thought maybe they were coming around--maybe we have to be scary again to put the fear of the people into them. They have fear for their person and fear of the empty wallet. We should hit them in both places.

well-paid employees = monied consumers = LONG-TERM business profit = strong economy = strong country

RLTOWNSLEY's picture
RLTOWNSLEY 9 years 16 weeks ago

Mark J. Saulys #8; Your totally correct on the 60's movement, this all came out of the Kennedy Administration who were more interested in racial and gender equality than a broad based equality that was not burdened by an obsession over a few specific groups. John Kennedy embraced his mother's liberal beliefs, that had been handed down by Eleanor Roosevelt, over his father's Right Wing beliefs that made him politically powerful and very wealthy from his earlier bootlegging activities. Far too many Liberal Democrats still promote that belief today despite the fact that all groups that fall in the lower 90 percent of today's population remain excluded from any real participation in their government's decision making ! The rights of Women and Blacks will continue to languish in this country until those fights are joined with the all consuming fight for a comprehensive system of rights and protections for all citizen classes, one that totally rejects the power of private economic dynasties !

mathboy's picture
mathboy 9 years 16 weeks ago

How is Eleanor Roosevelt supposed to have handed liberal values down to Rose Kennedy, who's only 6 years younger and not familially related?

oneworldatpeace's picture
oneworldatpeace 9 years 16 weeks ago

Mark makes good points about Democracy being supportive of Capitalism but misses the point that Capitalism is regressing into Feudalism as a practical reality not a theoretical difference in terms.

Furthurmore, Feudalism has historically occurred when an economic monopoly was retained through generations while amassing wealth and "partners" until the economic power purchased an Army. They then purchased the church and became Kings with Divine Dispensation to rule by the power of God. This has worked like Mark points out until starving people revolt and set up another system that slowly forgets the last revolt and re-establishes another monopoly that retains wealth through generations and then that power overwhelms the controls of the revolution and recreates another Monarchy, or Corporation.

It's not the bourgeousie, it's the RICH and it's ALL the people involved that do not recognize exactly what Reaganomics has malisciously provided to the majority of this country. We have homeless schoolkids in this country, half our students qualify for school meals and that seems to be just fine with most Americans and that means we truly suck as a people!

Mark J. Saulys's picture
Mark J. Saulys 9 years 16 weeks ago

Don't get me wrong, RS TOWNSLEY, lefties of the '60s were concerned about poverty and the otherwise from racially discriminated disadvataged but there just wasn't much such poverty in that carefree opulent society we lived in then that allowed most of us to not have to think about anything too much more than getting high and getting laid.

Nor am I saying that racial, gender, sexual orientation and other issues of lustice are not valid but we did not develop a sense of class consciousness and class struggle in the U.S. because we were a middle class society in which labor was very strong and there simply wasn't any too much other poverty in the U.S. other than racial discrimination based so we developed identity politics.

Mark J. Saulys's picture
Mark J. Saulys 9 years 16 weeks ago

oneworldatpeace, the rich today are, in fact, the bourgeouisie, the merchant class that was the middle class in feudal times but became the ruling class when it overthrew the feudal aristocracy, and it remains so today. Like almost every successful revolutionary movement, however, their revolutionary ideals, the liberal democratic reforms they felt so strongly about during and just after their revolutions aren't such a priority for them anymore after they've ceased to be the insurgency and been the ruling class for a while.

mathboy's picture
mathboy 9 years 16 weeks ago

Comment for 3/5/2015: Have we gone into a rerun? I'm hearing Thom talk about protests being forbidden outside the Supreme Court again.

Mark J. Saulys's picture
Mark J. Saulys 9 years 16 weeks ago

It's from day before yesterday if it's the same show as the first hour. He's saying Bi Bi Netahnyahu is speaking to Congress "tomorrow".

mathboy's picture
mathboy 9 years 16 weeks ago

Oh, yeah. I didn't put it together that he was talking about getting back from the Blue State Ball and having Ian Millhiser on. I must have missed a chunk of the show that day.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 9 years 15 weeks ago

Mark S -- You forgot to point out the cause of the rise of cities and the middle class. Thom has said it was the plague which wiped out much of the labor force. I prefer labor unions to provide power to labor, not a plague.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 9 years 15 weeks ago

PFNelkak -- There is a way. Repeal reagonomics. Especially, the part of reagonomics enacted in 1998 (?). That is, the repeal of Glass-Steagall Act.

Mark J. Saulys's picture
Mark J. Saulys 9 years 15 weeks ago

I, personally, have never heard or see how it can be the plague that caused the rise of cities. If anything, it seems to me, plague would cause people to flee cities, as densely populated areas would be centers for epidemics.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 9 years 15 weeks ago

LysanderSpooner -- You should read "The Spirit Level" by Richard Wilkerson. There is also a TED talking floating around by him. Economic inequality is the most wrong thing per se. By that I mean, it is the most correlative metric to the ills of society.

Free markets always fail. Free markets reduce the ability of people to start their own businesses. For example, try to start a office supply store with Staples and Office Depot in the neighborhood. When Walmart moves into an area, 5 years later there are 137 fewer businesses on average. Walmart and Staples are on their way to becoming the feudal lords.

Reagan raised tax rates on the middle class and lowered them on the rich.

How can you say reagan was a protectionist when the rate of our trade deficit increased dramatically during his terms in office.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 9 years 15 weeks ago

Mark S -- The plague reduced the labor force. Innovation helped make up for some of the loss. Also part of the effect was to increase the aggregate demand. Innovation usually requires a concentration of the populace (AKA a city).

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 9 years 15 weeks ago

Mark S -- I forgot to mention that it almost took a hundred years for this iron law of labor to work through the economy. I need to mention that I really do not know much. I just listen to almost every minute of Thom on podcast. I am presenting my interpretation of what he says.

bobcox's picture
bobcox 9 years 15 weeks ago

Don't forget Athens and Rome. Julius Ceaseer was assassinated to preserve the oligarchic control which led to 400-500 years of autocratic control. Julius Ceasser was empathetic to the men in his army and wanted the proper "justice" for them after France. That was the reason he passed over the Rubicon.

mathboy's picture
mathboy 9 years 15 weeks ago

I would imagine that the great loss of life in the cities led to a relaxation of serfdom, so that the cities could be repopulated quickly. Before that, immigration to cities would have been slow.

Mark J. Saulys's picture
Mark J. Saulys 9 years 15 weeks ago

I do not accept, yet perhaps, that the plague caused the rise of cities. That process was already underway in the 1200s in Italian city states, for example.

Thom, I'm sorry to say, not too infrequently gets things wrong. Not, perhaps, too much more than anyone else and certainly not as much as a Limbaugh, Hannity or Fox news personality but nonetheless. It is, in any case, not the dominant theory on the development of capitalism and somewhat historically revisionistic.

The plague may've been a catalyst but the breakdown of feudalism and development of capitalism were already proceeding apace on their own before the plague..

Mark J. Saulys's picture
Mark J. Saulys 9 years 15 weeks ago

Actually, a theory that industrialization brought down capitalism with the beginnings of skilled artisan, small scale, custom manufacture and technological changes necessarily creating a need for a new political, economic and social order is more predominate. The Black Death was a factor in this, the controversy is to how much a factor. Personally, I think it was not the dominant factor and that the process of capitalism supplanting feudalism was already underway before it.

Mark J. Saulys's picture
Mark J. Saulys 9 years 15 weeks ago

And maybe the plague's decimation of the population speeded up, if not entirely created, the need for technological innovation.

Thom's Blog Is On the Move

Hello All

Thom's blog in this space and moving to a new home.

Please follow us across to hartmannreport.com - this will be the only place going forward to read Thom's blog posts and articles.

From Cracking the Code:
"No one communicates more thoughtfully or effectively on the radio airwaves than Thom Hartmann. He gets inside the arguments and helps people to think them through—to understand how to respond when they’re talking about public issues with coworkers, neighbors, and friends. This book explores some of the key perspectives behind his approach, teaching us not just how to find the facts, but to talk about what they mean in a way that people will hear."
Paul Loeb, author of Soul of a Citizen
From The Thom Hartmann Reader:
"In an age rife with media-inspired confusion and political cowardice, we yearn for a decent, caring, deeply human soul whose grasp of the problems confronting us provides a light by which we can make our way through the quagmire of lies, distortions, pandering, and hollow self-puffery that strips the American Dream of its promise. How lucky we are, then, to have access to the wit, wisdom, and willingness of Thom Hartmann, who shares with us here that very light, grown out of his own life experience."
Mike Farrell, actor, political activist, and author of Just Call Me Mike and Of Mule and Man
From The Thom Hartmann Reader:
"Thom Hartmann is a literary descendent of Ben Franklin and Tom Paine. His unflinching observations and deep passion inspire us to explore contemporary culture, politics, and economics; challenge us to face the facts of the societies we are creating; and empower us to demand a better world for our children and grandchildren."
John Perkins, author of the New York Times bestselling book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man