Nuevo Feudalism, to coin a phrase.
Ok, should I do this from the top down, or the bottom up? Lets take it from the top.
Feudalism: Invisible, unassailable, uber-alpha God on top.
“King of Kings and Lord of Lords” – Handel’s Messiah
Next tier: Emperors and Kings. Heads of state by alleged divine right. Modern heads of state range from elected (temporary) to dictator (semi-permanent). While not lifetime positions, nor inherited generally speaking, most of these demagogues obtained these positions by some recognized “right”, usually by amassing a large enough, or strong enough power base of followers. Most also hold this position in part by pandering to religious authority to some degree. Most also have the ability to declare war on their neighbors despite legal or constitutional provisions (if any) designed to limit this power. In this way, and in many smaller ways today’s leaders can be observed to be above the law, as were the kings of old. All of these leaders cultivate an inner circle of political cohorts and advisors, paralleling the kings’ courts of old.
Next tier is the Powerful Influence Peddlers. Once reserved for Bishops and Cardinals, this level is now open to anyone who can amass a following, and/or use influence on public opinion to enrich or destroy a public figure. Televangelists and Special Interest Groups make up this group, as well as those controlling traditional religious organizations. Don’t discount the secret and not-so-secret societies either, although conspiracy theorists tend to exaggerate their abilities. This group is all about manipulating the collective consciousness, and extorting preferential treatment on the basis of that ability.
Next we have the Barons, Dukes, and other Landed Gentry. In today’s society, these are the ultra-rich. These are the Majority Stockholders, the Investment Fund Managers, the Private Investors, and others that can control by the manipulation of large sums of money.
Next, the Lesser Gentry. The Earls of old have been replaced in part by Corporate Upper Management, and in part by the Faux Aristocracy. The Corporate Upper Management oversees a fiefdom of employees and managers. As a rule, they are grossly overpaid in proportion to their actual contribution to the running of the business. This is usually a reward for golf course intrigues, and past favors that provide (or did provide) a tactical advantage to the business in the marketplace. The Faux Aristocracy are The Celebrities. Whether athletes or actors, singers or glitterati, these are the folks that have been made incredibly wealthy in proportion to their actual lasting contribution to society. These are the hyped ones. Those that can influence public opinion or fashion because the Heralds of the Press say they can. Almost all of these Celebrities are where they are because they make even more money for someone or something else.
The working face of the Landed Gentry and Lesser Gentry is the Corporate Entity. This fictitious “person” represents an amalgamation of investors and management. It is subject to some specially tailored laws, and exempt from others that apply to real persons. In this way, the corporate entity shields the owners from some liability and responsibility for the actions of the corporation. For better or worse.
The fiefdom of feudalism has been largely replaced by the franchise. Since the 1960s, owner-operators have been steadily replaced by franchisees and hirelings. This is true in the restaurant business, and for department stores, pharmacies, gas stations, funeral homes, condominium and apartment building ownership. Similar consolidations have happened in the areas of public utilities, newspapers, and film and television production.
The Guilds have been replaced by the Unions. Need I say more?
The Tenant Farmer has been replaced by the Working Stiff. What percentage of all the homes in the world are owned by the banks? Title has been largely replaced by debt instruments. Add up the money owed by the average wage earner that goes to pay taxes and service debt, and toss in the unreimbursed mandatory insurance payments. Multiply by 100, divide by the annual salary, and you have the percentage of that persons life and toil that is owned by a third party. When calculating taxes, don’t forget the tax component of fuel, sales tax, and value-added taxes on “luxuries” like restaurant meals and hotel rooms. Actually, it can be even worse. If you “own” a Condo, you share ownership with the land owner. Your Association fees have a profit component, are not optional expenses, and are not negotiable by the individual.
If you live in an industrialized nation, go visit a Third World country, go to a market, and discover what a premium you are paying for food back home. The Food Deployment Industry has largely marginalized or destroyed regional farming and competitive farmer’s markets. The industry is an Oligopsony. This produces a few large “competitors”, some kind of barrier to entry, and prices are largely uniform and non-competitive. This does not imply price fixing. Prices are set by a cost-plus formula that is roughly uniform for all competitors. They charge all the market will bear, and they create the market. Between supermarket chains and restaurant chains, corporate entities have a practical lock on food production and distribution in developed countries. They control competition by controlling the markup on the wholesale portion of the supply chain. All of this overhead is another way that the corporations own, or reabsorb, your wages.
Next tier down is the Outlaws, or Riff-raff. In Feudal society, these were the thieves and poachers. Organized Crime is a hierarchy of its own. The working component of this group serves a valuable purpose to the greater hierarchy. The general fear of robbery and assault justifies the levy of taxes for the purpose of local militias in the role of law enforcement. The law enforcement agencies quickly become a concentration of power and a tool of coercion for the government. On a domestic level, these agencies quickly occupy themselves enforcing laws that have nothing to do with crime per se. They will respond to domestic disputes, loud noises, and hand out speeding and parking tickets. While unable to pursue potential criminals until a crime has been committed, they nonetheless perform many tasks of social engineering that ultimately either raises revenues for the Municipal Government, or protects the interests of the Insurance Companies. On a wider scale, the working criminal gives justification to gun-toting government agencies like the ATF and the DEA. These organizations quickly establish an equilibrium with their opponents. There is no vested interest in large-scale curtailment. If the DEA were to expend the energy and manpower to achieve a victory in the “war” on drugs, there would be both heavy casualties, and heavy layoffs. This is also why, until 9/11, and arguably afterward, the Border Patrol was one of the most grossly under funded agencies in Law Enforcement.
The bottom rung is the Mendicants, or Beggars. I think I have covered their role in modern society well enough in The Globalization of Poverty. In feudal times, they also served as an example of both disenfranchisement, and a group that required the help of the community to survive. One major difference was that back then, they were more often directly subsidized and less often the beneficiary of some fund-raising organization. This also creates a major opportunity for tax evasion, then as now.
Image from here.