Neofeudalism: The End of Capitalism?

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:


IN CAPITAL IS DEAD, McKenzie Wark asks: What if we’re not in capitalism anymore but something worse? The question is provocative, sacrilegious, unsettling as it forces anti-capitalists to confront an unacknowledged attachment to capitalism. Communism was supposed to come after capitalism and it’s not here, so doesn’t that mean we are still in capitalism? Left unquestioned, this assumption hinders political analysis. If we’ve rejected strict historical determinism, we should be able to consider the possibility that capitalism has mutated into something qualitatively different. Wark’s question invites a thought experiment: what tendencies in the present indicate that capitalism is transforming itself into something worse?

Over the past decade, “neofeudalism” has emerged to name tendencies associated with extreme inequality, generalized precarity, monopoly power, and changes at the level of the state. Drawing from libertarian economist Tyler Cowen’s emphasis on the permanence of extreme inequality in the global, automated economy, the conservative geographer Joel Kotkin envisions the US future as mass serfdom. A property-less underclass will survive by servicing the needs of high earners as personal assistants, trainers, child-minders, cooks, cleaners, et cetera. The only way to avoid this neofeudal nightmare is by subsidizing and deregulating the high-employment industries that make the American lifestyle of suburban home ownership and the open road possible — construction and real estate; oil, gas, and automobiles; and corporate agribusiness. Unlike the specter of serfdom haunting Friedrich Hayek’s attack on socialism, Kotkin locates the adversary within capitalism. High tech, finance, and globalization are creating “a new social order that in some ways more closely resembles feudal structure — with its often unassailable barriers to mobility — than the chaotic emergence of industrial capitalism.” In this libertarian/conservative imaginary, feudalism occupies the place of the enemy formerly held by communism. The threat of centralization and the threat to private property are the ideological elements that remain the same.

A number of technology commentators share the libertarian/conservative critique of technology’s role in contemporary feudalization even as they don’t embrace fossil fuels and suburbia. Already in 2010, in his influential book, You Are Not a Gadget, tech guru Jaron Lanier observed the emergence of peasants and lords of the internet. This theme has increased in prominence as a handful of tech companies have become ever richer and more extractive, turning their owners into billionaires on the basis of the cheap labor of their workers, the free labor of their users, and the tax breaks bestowed on them by cities desperate to attract jobs. Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, and Alphabet (the parent company name for Google) together are worth more than most every country in the world (except the United States, China, Germany, and Japan). The economic scale and impact of these tech super giants, or, overlords, is greater than that of most so-called sovereign states. Evgeny Morozov describes their dominance as a “hyper-modern form of feudalism.”

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

PG will remind one and all that he does not necessarily agree with everything he posts here.

He hopes this is not happening at a lot of other places around the world, but large portions of urban America appear to have fallen into an endless Doom/Gloom cycle, sort of a Doom/Gloom wallow.

PG will note that, when he prepared this post yesterday, the book mentioned in the OP had an Amazon Sales Rank of #143,149 in Kindle Store. The LARB article is dated May 12, 2020, so whatever sales bump the book received from the review apparently didn’t last very long.

Even though the title of the book implies that capitalism is dead, apparently the publisher and author had no problem offering it for sale through an enterprise that is one of the greatest capitalist successes of the last twenty years. Maybe Amazon is on the brink of collapse, but PG wouldn’t bet on that.

(PG was going to put this post in the Non-Fiction category, but decided not to do so.)

6 thoughts on “Neofeudalism: The End of Capitalism?”

  1. Indeed…

    a thought experiment: what tendencies in the present indicate that capitalism is transforming itself into something worse?

    It’s not much of an experiment when you telegraph your expected findings right in the question you are asking.

  2. What tendencies indicate capitalism might be evolving into something “better”?
    I’m pretty sure there’s more of those than the opposite.

    As for neo-feudalism, *that* I find a more interesting topic but I don’t think the OP actually grasps how classic feudalism worked, how paternalistic capitalism worked, or what *true* neofeudalistic capitalism would be like.

    Naturally, that idea was explored decades ago in SF; one of my favorites, in fact.

    https://www.amazon.com/Oath-Fealty-Larry-Niven-ebook/dp/B01FH51S44/ref=sr_1_4?crid=JH1C43MG5GMO&dchild=1&keywords=oath+of+fealty&qid=1603919955&sprefix=oath+of+fea%2Caps%2C251&sr=8-4

    It was topical when it was written; even more so today.
    Typical Niven/Pournelle.
    —-

    “In a dystopian future, where pollution and violence overrun Los Angeles streets, a Utopia flourishes. Todos Santos is thousand-foot-high arcology; a single-structured city that rises above the festering skyscrapers to offer its privileged residents the perfect blend of technology and security in exchange for their oath of allegiance and vigilance.

    But is this orderly city elevating humanity, or shackling it? There are those who feel the constant video surveillance oppressive, rather than inclusive, or that the city is monopolizing hard-earned resources, and taking money away from the poorer Angelinos. ”

    The basic plot is quite good but the world building of the society within the Arcology is what shines, especially their willingness to look at the whole picture, both within and outside the “castle”. No utopia or dystopia within, blurb aside.

    • Only those married to them.
      If the economic system were to collapse there wouldn’t be enough surplus production to support the breed. And since most can’t carry a tune they wouldn’t even be able to sing for their supper.

  3. BTW, as of tonight, the book is down to 267,244.
    Surprisingly high for a book that doesn’t know the difference between a social/political system (feudalism) and an economic system (capitalism).

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